Ethiopian jets ‘pounding’ targets in Tigray

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) – Ethiopia’s air force is “pounding targets with precision,” a military official said on Monday, as the federal government continues its offensive against the heavily armed northern region of Tigray and no clear route to peace is seen.

Neighbouring Sudan has sent more than 6,000 troops to the border, a military official there said, while Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed again sought to calm concerns that the deadly confrontation could slide into civil war and destabilise the strategic Horn of Africa region.

It remains unclear how many people have been killed in the fighting that erupted last week in Tigray as Abiy’s government comes under increasing international pressure to calm tensions.

The United Nations and others have warned of a brewing humanitarian disaster affecting up to nine million people. The northern Tigray region is largely cut off from the outside world, making it difficult to verify each side’s assertions. Each accuses the other of starting the fighting.

Ethiopian Major General Mohammed Tssema, who spoke of the “pounding” by the air force, in a Facebook post also denied as “totally wrong” a claim by the Tigray regional government on Sunday that a fighter jet had been shot down.

Ethiopians read newspapers and magazines reporting on the military confrontation in the country at a news stand on a street in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PHOTO: AP

The Tigray regional government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), did confirm the federal government’s aerial assault, saying in a Facebook post that the air force had carried out more than 10 such attacks so far.

Ethiopia’s prime minister has shown no sign of opening talks with the TPLF, which once dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition but is now regarded by the federal government as illegal after it broke away last year as Abiy sought to transform the coalition into a single Prosperity Party. The TPLF felt marginalised by Abiy’s political reforms and defied the federal government by holding a local election in September.

“Concerns that Ethiopia will descend into chaos are unfounded,” Abiy said in a brief statement on Monday, and vowed that what he calls a law enforcement action “will wrap up soon.”

Abiy on Sunday reshuffled his Cabinet to make major changes to his government’s military and intelligence leadership in an apparent move to bring supporters of the military offensive to the forefront. “There’s no indication this is anything but a full-scale federal government attempt to remove the TPLF leadership. They seem intent on that course,” International Crisis Group analyst Will Davison told The Associated Press. “No one’s interested in negotiations at this stage. At least, no one’s interested in making concessions toward them.”