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Ethiopian Military Deploys Air Power in Opposition-Controlled Tigray Region

© AP Photo / Mulugeta AyeneEthiopian Orthodox Christians light candles and pray for peace during a church service at the Medhane Alem Cathedral in the Bole Medhanealem area of the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Thursday, 5 November 2020.
Ethiopian Orthodox Christians light candles and pray for peace during a church service at the Medhane Alem Cathedral in the Bole Medhanealem area of the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Thursday, 5  November 2020.  - Sputnik International
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali ordered the military to start an operation in the restive, opposition-controlled region on Wednesday after an alleged attack on federal forces.

The Ethiopian Air Force has carried out air strikes against opposition-held military positions in Tigray province, destroying military hardware and arms depots in and around the region's capital of Mek'ele, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has announced.

The strikes, described by the Prime Minister as the "first round of the operation" against the region's Tigray People's Liberation Front government, were said to have "completely destroyed rockets and other heavy weapons" possessed by the TPLF.

Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his role in trying to end the war between Ethiopia and its former province Eritrea, insisted that Addis Ababa's military campaign in Tigray had "clear, limited and achievable objectives," including the disarmament of "any security force of the regional state."

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Calling the TPLF government a "junta" and a group of "fugitives from justice," Abiy vowed to continue the operation until the regional authorities were "made accountable by law". He also accused TPLF of using the region's civilian population "as human shields". 

In a related development, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a statement on Friday calling on all parties in the clashes in northern Ethiopia "to respect people's lives and property as well as their access to timely medical care and assistance". The committee provides some 90,000 people in Tigray with humanitarian assistance.

Addis Ababa began its military operation in the opposition-held region on Wednesday, describing the decision to resort to force as "the last measure to save the people and the country." The offensive began after Prime Minister Abiy accused the TPLF of crossing the "final red line" and attempting to loot federal forces' military assets from a local base.

A six-month state of emergency has been introduced in the region, with telephone and internet services disabled and meetings and travel in groups of more than four people forbidden, along with possession of firearms by anyone other than law enforcement officers. Roads to the region and Tigray's airports have been closed, as has the border with neighbouring Sudan.

Abiy's government has a history of poor relations with the TPLF, the former governing coalition partner and militia force which helped to topple Ethiopia's communist government from power in the early 1990s and went on to play an outsized role in the post-communist period for more than two decades. The regional party dropped out of Abiy's political coalition in 2019.

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Tigray held regional parliamentary elections in September, in defiance of a ban on planned elections by the federal government because of the coronavirus. On Monday, two days before federal troops began their operations in Tigray, the region's chief administrator, Debretsion Gebremichael, warned the media that Addis Ababa might soon try to mount an offensive as "punishment" for Mek'ele's decision to hold the vote anyway.

Observers fear the conflict in Tigray threatens to plunge Ethiopia into a civil war.

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