Forces in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia have launched attacks in the neighboring Afar region, marking the spread of an eight-month conflict in an area that had so far not been touched.
On Saturday, Tigrayan fighters crossed into Afar and Afar forces and Allied militias were still fighting them on Monday, Afar spokesman Ahmed Koloyta said.
“Now [Ethiopian military forces] they are on their way and we will work with them to eliminate them [the Tigrayan forces], “He said.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Tigrayan forces, confirmed that they had been fighting over the weekend in Afar.
“We are not interested in any territorial benefit in Afar, but we are more interested in degrading the fighting capabilities of enemies,” he said via satellite phone.
He said Tigrinya forces repelled militias from Ethiopia’s Oromia region who had been sent to fight alongside regional afar forces.
Months of conflict
So far, thousands of people have died in the Tigray conflict. About two million people have been forced to flee their homes and more than five million rely on emergency food aid.
Ethiopia has a federal system with 10 regions, and last week the conflict in Tigray drew regional forces across the country as they deployed to support the federal military.
In November, fighting broke out between the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) government and the army.
Three weeks later, the government declared victory when it seized the regional capital, Mekelle, but the TPLF continued to fight.
In late June, the TPLF recaptured Mekelle and most of Tigray after the government withdrew troops and declared a unilateral ceasefire.
The outpouring of war to another part of Africa’s second most populous nation may accumulate more pressure on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
He won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, but faces international criticism for the conflict amid reports of atrocities committed by federal forces and troops in neighboring Eritrea who have fought alongside him. His government says it is investigating these reports.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia for decades as the strongest force in a multiethnic coalition, until Abiy took power two years ago.
They say they were forced into conflict after breaking off attempts to mediate with Abiy and guarantee the autonomy of their region in accordance with the constitution.
“A terrorist organization”
The government designated the TPLF as a “terrorist organization” in May.
TPLF leaders have said they will continue to fight until they regain control of the disputed territory south and west of Tigray, which was confiscated during fighting by government allies in the Amhara region.
On Sunday, Abiy said the Ethiopian army was ready to defeat Tigrinya forces.
Forces in the Amhara region, which has a border dispute with Tigray, have supported the military since the beginning of the conflict.
On Friday, three other regions said they were sending forces to support the army.
On Sunday, the Somali region said it was also sending troops, as was the Benishangul-Gumuz region on Monday.
The Gambella and Harari regions have also said they were sending troops, according to state-run Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation.
The distance is strategically important because the road and the railway that connect the capital, Addis Ababa, with the seaport of Djibouti run there.
Djibouti is the main access to the Ethiopian Sea with no access to the sea.
Over the weekend, the head of the TPLF said Tigrayan forces had released about 1,000 government soldiers captured during the latest fighting.
Access to aid
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday it had begun visiting soldiers detained in Tigray.
The United Nations World Food Program said Monday its convoy of nine trucks was attacked Sunday morning while transporting aid to Tigray.
The convoy was attacked 115 km (70 miles) from the town of Semera in Afar, the agency said.
WFP has suspended the movement of all Semera convoys until safety can be guaranteed.