Mauritania's former president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the West African state's first democratically elected president, died overnight, his family members and the president's office said Monday. The politician died at a private clinic in the capital Nouakchott after suffering heart complications, according to his relatives. Born in 1938, Abdallahi became the first democratically elected head of state in Mauritania in April 2007. But he only governed for 15 months before Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a general, deposed him in a military coup. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz himself ruled as president of Mauritania between 2009 and 2019, before being succeeded by Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani. The country's presidency on Monday announced three days of mourning after his death.
* PM Abiy's forces pressing towards Tigrayan capital * State media says Tigrayan forces target airport * 'We are ready to die,' says defiant TPLF leader * War kills hundreds, sends refugees fleeing to Sudan Forces of Ethiopia's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) have destroyed an airport in the ancient town of Axum, state-affiliated media said on Monday, as advancing federal troops gave them a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has told the TPLF, which had been ruling the mountainous northern zone of 5 million people, to lay down their arms by Wednesday or face a final assault on the regional capital Mekelle. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters that threat was a cover for government forces to regroup after what he described as defeats on three fronts. There was no immediate response from either side to the other's latest comments, and Reuters could not confirm their statements. Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been down. Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been killed in fighting and air strikes that erupted on Nov. 4, sending about 40,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan. The conflict has spread beyond Tigray, with the TPLF firing rockets into both neighbouring Amhara region and across the border to Eritrea. International appeals for mediation, from the United Nations and around Africa and Europe, have so far not gained traction. Fana broadcaster said TPLF troops had destroyed the airport serving the town of Axum, which lies northwest of Mekelle and is a popular tourist draw and UNESCO World Heritage site. Axum's history and ruins, including fourth century obelisks when the Axumite Empire was at its height, gives Ethiopia its claim to be one of the world's oldest centres of Christianity. Legend says it was once home to the Queen of Sheba and that an Axum church housed the Ark of the Covenant. The United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, Catherine Sozi, urged safety guarantees for aid workers, Mekelle's more than half a million inhabitants, and their health, school and water systems. Abiy's government has repeatedly said it is only targeting TPLF leaders and facilities to restore law and order after they rose up against federal troops. It denies hitting civilians. "Our women and men in uniform have shown great care to protect civilians from harm during the law enforcement operation they have carried out in Tigray so far," its taskforce for the Tigray conflict said on Monday. The TPLF says Abiy has "invaded" their region in order to dominate them and is inflicting "merciless" damage on Tigrayans. "We are people of principle and are ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region," TPLF leader Debretsion added in a text message to Reuters on Monday.
The United Nations urged Ethiopia on Monday to ensure the protection of civilians, a day after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave Tigrayan forces 72 hours to surrender before a military offensive on the regional capital of Mekelle. Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been killed in fighting that erupted on Nov. 4 between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray's regional army, sending more than 30,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan. Catherine Sozi, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, told Reuters that she hoped for the guarantee of safety and security of aid workers and the "protection of more than 525,000 civilian (non-combatants) who live in Mekelle". She also asked for the "protection of all civilian infrastructure like health facilities, schools and water system ... of civilian importance." In a statement on Twitter, the government's emergency taskforce said, "Our women and men in uniform have shown great care to protect civilians from harm during the law enforcement operation they have carried out in Tigray so far." Rebels have also fired rockets into the neighbouring region of Amhara, and across the border into the nation of Eritrea. On Sunday, Abiy gave Tigrayan regional forces 72 hours to surrender before the military begins an offensive on Mekelle. "We urge you to surrender peacefully within 72 hours, recognising that you are at the point of no return," Abiy said in a message posted on Twitter on Sunday.
* PM Abiy's troops aim to encircle rebel-held Mekelle * Tigrayan rebel forces say they are standing firm * War kills hundreds, sends refugees fleeing to Sudan * Government resists international appeals for ceasefire Ethiopia's army plans to surround the rebel-held capital of Tigray region with tanks and may use artillery on the city to try to end a nearly three-week war, a military spokesman said on Sunday, urging civilians to save themselves. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which is refusing to surrender its rule of the northern region, said its forces were digging trenches and standing firm. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's federal troops have taken a string of towns during aerial bombardments and ground fighting, and are now aiming for Mekelle, a highland city of about 500,000 people where the rebels are based. The war has killed hundreds, possibly thousands, sent more than 30,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan, and seen rockets fired by rebels into neighbouring Amhara region and across the border into the nation of Eritrea. Countries around Africa and Europe have urged a truce, but Abiy has so far rebuffed that. "The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks," military spokesman Colonel Dejene Tsegaye told Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation. "We want to send a message to the public in Mekelle to save yourselves from any artillery attacks and free yourselves from the junta ... After that, there will be no mercy." TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters by text message that his forces were resisting a push from south of Mekelle while also fighting near the northern town of Adigrat after it had fallen to federal troops. "Encircling Mekelle is their plan but yet they couldn't," he said. "On south front, they couldn't move an inch for more than one week. They (are) sending waves after waves but to no avail." Reuters could not verify the latest statements on the war. Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been down since fighting began on Nov. 4. Abiy accuses the Tigrayan leaders of revolting against central authority and attacking federal troops in the town of Dansha on Nov. 4. The rebels say his government has marginalised and persecuted Tigrayans since taking office two years ago. The prime minister drew plaudits for opening up Ethiopia's closed economy and repressive political system after taking office. He won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace agreement with Eritrea. International rights groups say his government has carried out mass arrests after outbreaks of violence and detained journalists this year. The Nobel Peace Prize committee urged peace after his offensive against the Tigrayan leaders began. Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government's task force on Tigray, said there was still time for the TPLF leadership to surrender. "The government will take maximum restraint not to cause major risks for civilians," he added. He said that while many Tigrayan special forces and militia fighters had surrendered or scattered around Adigrat, resistance was stronger on the southern front, where rebels have dug up roads, destroyed bridges and booby-trapped roads with explosives. He said government troops had taken high ground there and were moving forward. Aid agencies fear a humanitarian disaster in a region where hundreds of thousands relied on food aid and were displaced even before fighting began.
The Ethiopian government rebuffed an African effort to mediate yesterday, saying its troops had seized another town in their march towards the rebel-held capital of northern Tigray region. More than two weeks into Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s offensive, the government says Tigrayan forces are bulldozing roads and destroyed bridges to hold up the advance on regional capital Mekelle, home to about half a million people. The Tigrayans have promised “hell” for their advancing enemies. They have denied destroying bridges but were not reachable for comment about ploughing up roads. Hundreds, possibly thousands, have died and more than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan since the conflict erupted on Nov. 4.The fighting has spread beyond Tigray, whose forces have fired rockets at the neighbouring Amhara region and the nation of Eritrea, spurring concern of a wider war and the splintering of multi-ethnic Ethiopia. Abiy’s government has said it will soon reach Mekelle after taking various surrounding towns. Yesterday, it said Adigrat had also fallen, about 116km north of Mekelle. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels said nine civilians had died among heavy casualties in artillery hits on Adigrat. The government could not immediately be reached for comment, but has previously repeatedly denied targeting civilians. Assertions on all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet connections have been down since the beginning of the conflict and media are largely barred. Eritrea denies TPLF allegations it has sent soldiers over the border to back Abiy’s offensive against the Tigrayan forces, who are also an old foe of Eritrea’s. On Friday, the African Union bloc appointed former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys to seek a ceasefire and mediation talks. Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea, aims to capture TPLF leaders before talking. “News circulating that the envoys will be travelling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake,” the government tweeted yesterday. Abiy accuses the Tigrayan leaders of revolting against central authority and attacking federal troops in the town of Dansha. The rebels say Abiy’s government has marginalised and persecuted Tigrayans since taking office two years ago. Abiy denies that, saying he is seeking only to restore law and order and preserve the unity of Ethiopia and its 115mn people. Aid workers say the conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where many among the more than 5mn population were already displaced and relying on food aid even before the conflict. Satellite images from US-based space company Maxar Technologies showed destroyed buildings lining the main road near Dansha airport, where the government says there was a Nov 4 surprise attack on federal troops. The TPLF is popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Abiy took office. Abiy’s parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups. “We will do all that is necessary to ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want,” the prime minister tweeted yesterday. Over the border with Sudan, the United Nations is planning for the possible arrival of 200,000 refugees. “The situation is very dire,” said Jens Hesemann, emergency response coordinator for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, from the Hamdayet crossing point, appealing for urgent donor aid as he stood before tents and crowds of recently-arrived Ethiopians. Thousands of refugees in Hamdayet and another crossing point, Luqdi, have been lining up for jerry cans and helpings of cornflour porridge, and putting up makeshift tents under scrubland trees. Many had crowded into boats to cross a river into Sudan.
Ethiopia denied on Saturday that talks on the growing conflict in its northern Tigray region were imminent, just hours after three African former presidents were named to help mediate the two-week-old crisis. Ethiopian troops are taking towns and advancing on the Tigrayan capital Mekelle despite resistance from regional forces who have used bulldozers to plough up roads and are putting up resistance, the Addis Ababa government said late on Friday. Tigrayan forces were not immediately available for comment. They said in a broadcast on Friday they were making progress on the southern and northern fronts. Assertions on all sides have been difficult to verify because internet and phone links to the region have been down since the conflict broke out on Nov. 4. A hint of the devastation can be seen in satellite images provided to Reuters by commercial space company Maxar Technologies. Destroyed buildings lined the main road in the town of Dansha, where the conflict broke out, the images showed. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people have been killed, more than 30,000 refugees have fled into Sudan, and Tigrayan forces have fired rockets at Ethiopia's Amhara region and the neighbouring nation of Eritrea. The African Union announced late on Friday the appointment of former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys. ‘The primary task of the Special Envoys is to engage all sides to the conflict with a view to ending hostilities, creating conditions for an inclusive national dialogue to resolve all issues that led to the conflict, and restoring peace and stability to Ethiopia,’ the AU said in a statement. The Ethiopian government has repeatedly said it will not engage in talks with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which it regards as a renegade administration, pointing to what the government says was a surprise attack the group launched on federal troops in Dansha, sparking the conflict. ‘News circulating that the envoys will be travelling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake,’ a government taskforce on Tigray tweeted on Saturday morning. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that Ethiopia was not interested in external mediation. ‘Until now, there has not been acceptance by the Ethiopian authorities of any form of external mediation,’ he said. The government has appointed an alternative interim government to run Tigray when troops take Mekelle. Its new head gave a glimpse of government strategy this week when he hinted at forgiveness for TPLF rank and file - the political party has not been outlawed - and a public relations campaign against the TPLF. The TPLF is extremely popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018.
At least 37 people have died in Uganda, police pathologist Moses Byaruhanga said on Friday, after protests erupted following the arrest on Wednesday of presidential candidate and pop star Bobi Wine. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on Wednesday while campaigning in eastern Uganda for allegedly holding mass rallies in violation of restrictions on gatherings imposed by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus. "Yes, 37 bodies have been counted so far," Byaruhanga told Reuters.
* Amhara authorities say rockets cause no damage * Government forces moving towards Tigray capital * Fear of wider conflict spilling beyond Tigray * Tigray dominated Ethiopia until Abiy's rise in 2018 Rebel forces from Ethiopia's Tigray region fired rockets on Friday at the distant capital of the neighbouring Amhara region, Amhara authorities said, raising worries the conflict could spill into a wider war. Two weeks into the conflict, the United Nations said it was making plans for as many as 200,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Sudan, and made an urgent appeal for $200 million to assist them. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed and tens of thousands of refugees have fled from fighting in Tigray, raising questions of whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed can hold his ethnically diverse nation together. "The illegal TPLF group have launched a rocket attack around 1:40 a.m. in Bahir Dar," the Amhara government's communications office said, referring to the Tigray People's Liberation Front. The rockets caused no damage, it said. Bahir Dar, Amhara region's lakeside capital, is located hundreds of miles from the fighting in Tigray. Tigrayan refugees have told Reuters the Amhara militia is fighting on the government side, and the two regions have a border dispute. A local journalist and another resident in Bahir Dar said they heard two explosions and had been told by people in the area that at least one missile hit near the airport. Aid agencies fear a humanitarian emergency in Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people depended on relief aid even before the conflict. Thousands of refugees have fled, some crowding into boats to cross a river to Sudan, overwhelming aid groups positioned on the other side. "Together with all the agencies we have built a response plan for about 20,000 people and currently we are at about 31,000 so it has already surpassed that figure," U.N. refugee agency's (UNHCR) Axel Bisschop told a briefing in Geneva. "The new planning figure is around 200,000." UNICEF's Sudan-based representative Abdullah Fadil voiced fears about the impact of the arrivals on Sudan, already hosting 1 million refugees from other African neighbours. "Our serious concern is if we do not act quickly with the resources needed...this could unravel not only Ethiopia but also Sudan," he told the briefing. Ethiopia, a federation of 10 ethnic regions, was dominated for decades by Tigrayans in a TPLF-led ruling coalition, until Abiy, who is of Amhara and Oromo descent, took power two years ago. He says he aims to share authority more fairly in the country. The TPLF accuses him of pursuing a vendetta against former officials. The conflict erupted two weeks ago after what the government called a TPLF attack on army forces stationed in the region. Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in the Tigray capital Mekelle on Thursday. There was no immediate response from the government, although officials have said they are attacking only military targets. It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet links to Tigray have been severed since the conflict began. On Thursday, Ethiopia said it was closing in on Mekelle, which the rebels have said they will defend. A week ago, Tigray forces fired rockets at two airports in Amhara. They have also fired at rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, which has a long-running enmity with the TPLF leadership. Eritrea made peace with Ethiopia in 2018, earning Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize. Reports of ethnically motivated killings have emerged during the conflict. Rights group Amnesty International documented a mass killing of civilians, many of whom appeared to be Amhara, by what it says were Tigrayan forces on Nov. 9-10, which the Tigray authorities denied. Refugees fleeing into Sudan have said they were targeted for being Tigrayan. Since taking power, Abiy has freed political prisoners and loosened what was once one of the most repressive political and economic systems in Africa. But the new freedoms have been accompanied by bouts of violence as regional bosses vie with each other and the government for power, money and land. Mountainous Tigray accounts for only about 5% of the population but long dominated the security services. Tigrayans spearheaded a conflict that toppled a Communist regime in 1991.
Rebel forces from Ethiopia's Tigray region fired rockets into the city of Bahir Dar in the neighbouring Amhara region on Friday but caused no casualties or damage, the Amhara government said, as federal forces moved towards the Tigray capital. ‘The illegal TPLF group have launched a rocket attack around 1:40 a.m. in Bahir Dar,’ Amhara regional government's communications office said on its Facebook page. ‘The rockets have caused no damage.’ The conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed hundreds over the past two weeks, sent 33,000 refugees into Sudan, and called into question whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed - Africa's youngest leader and last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner - can hold his ethnically divided nation together ahead of national elections next year. The northern-based Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) effectively ruled Ethiopia for decades as the strongest force in a multi-ethnic coalition, until Abiy took power two years ago following years of bloody protests against government repression. He released thousands of political prisoners, lifted bans on many political parties and put many officials from the old regime on trial for crimes like murder or corruption. The Tigrayans accused him of purging them from positions of power, accusations his government denies. Amhara, which has a long-running border dispute with Tigray, has sent regional forces in support of the federal troops. There have also been reports of ethnically motivated killings. International rights group Amnesty International documented a mass killing of civilians by what it says were Tigrayan forces on Nov. 9-10, and refugees fleeing the conflict into Sudan have said they were targeted because they were Tigrayan. Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in the Tigray capital of Mekelle on Thursday. There was no immediate response from the government although officials have said they are only attacking military targets. It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet connections to Tigray have been down since the beginning of the conflict. Ethiopia said on Thursday it was closing in on Mekelle. The rebels have said they are fighting to defend it. Africa's second most populous nation of 115 million people, Ethiopia is a federation of 10 states run by separate ethnic groups, many of whom have used the new freedoms that came under Abiy to jostle with the federal government and each other for more power, money or land. Of those, mountainous Tigray - which accounts for about 5% of the population - is smaller but has a long history of dominating the security services. Tigrayans are also proud of their long history of guerrilla warfare; they spearheaded a conflict that toppled a Communist regime in 1991.
Seven people died in violent protests that erupted in Kampala on Wednesday after Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine was arrested, police said. Security forces clashed with supporters of the pop star-turned-opposition leader who is President Yoweri Museveni's main opponent in presidential elections on January 14. ‘So far the dead are seven, as from late last evening. Those injured are 45,’ police spokesman Fred Enanga told AFP on Tuesday. The singer, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, remained in police custody on Thursday for allegedly violating coronavirus measures at his rallies. Enanga said calm had returned to the capital ‘even after there were attempts by some gangs this morning to block roads by burning tyres and setting up barricades, which police stopped.’ The Red Cross said late Wednesday it had treated more than 30 people following ‘scuffles involving the police and the rioting masses’, including 11 people for gunshot wounds. Wine, 38, has long been a thorn in Museveni's side, netting a widespread following through catchy pop songs about social justice and corruption. Many young Ugandans see him as their champion in a country mired in poverty and youth unemployment. Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel who seized power in 1986, is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders. Wine has been repeatedly arrested -- most recently on November 3 after he filed his candidacy for the elections -- his concerts are routinely banned and his public rallies broken up with teargas. - Tension - The situation in Kampala remained tense early Thursday, with a constant military and police presence. Rocks, burned tyres and other debris littered many streets in the city centre. A group of Wine supporters remained camped outside Nalufenya prison in eastern Uganda where he was being detained. A leading supporter, Muhammad Ssegirinya, who is also an an opposition parliamentary candidate, was detained after posted an audio message saying Kyagulanyi collapsed in detention over night and was to be flown out of the country for treatment. The US embassy published a tweet saying it deplored the violence and extended its sympathy to the victims and their families. ‘We urge all parties to renounce violence, undertake good-faith measures to reduce tensions, and respect fundamental freedoms,’ it said. Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the candidate with the Forum for Democratic Change, was also detained on Wednesday but has been released. Two other presidential candidates, Henry Tumukunde and Gregory Mugisha Muntu, have called off their campaigns until Uganda's electoral body prevailed over what they called police brutality against opposition candidates. Museveni made no immediate comment on the protests.
* Sources say arms removed from 200-300 troops from Tigray * Ethiopian government says disarmaments due to security issue * Disarmaments hamper peacekeeping in Somalia - sources Ethiopia said on Wednesday peacekeepers from its Tigray region serving in Somalia had been disarmed over a security issue, raising concerns over the forces' ability to fight al Qaeda-linked militants. Diplomatic and security sources said earlier that between 200 and 300 Tigrayans had had their weapons removed. Ethiopian troops began fighting forces from the northern region of Tigray earlier this month after what the government described as a surprise attack by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) on colleagues stationed there. Ethiopia’s military, which is regarded as the most effective in the Horn of Africa, plays a big role in an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Somalia and has also sent troops bilaterally. The disarmament of some of those troops could weaken the forces' ability to fight the al Shabaab insurgency as Somalia prepares to hold parliamentary elections next month and presidential elections in February, experts say. US President Donald Trump is also considering pulling out hundreds of US troops before January. "What do you do when you're a force commander and you find you have 200 or 300 soldiers who can't go into battle because of their ethnicity?" a security source told Reuters. Tigray's leaders have said Ethiopia's government is biased against the region, a charge the government has repeatedly denied. "The peacekeepers are not being disarmed due to ethnicity but due to infiltration of TPLF elements in various entities which is part of an ongoing investigation," said a text message to Reuters from the State of Emergency Taskforce, a body set up to deal with the Tigray conflict. No further information was given. Earlier, four diplomatic and security sources told Reuters those disarmed included bilateral and AU troops. The disarmed men were believed to be confined to their bases in Somalia, according to two diplomatic sources. They include a deputy commander in one of the military sectors, the security source said. The AU peacekeeping force did not respond to calls and messages for comment. Ethiopia, which shares a long and porous border with Somalia, contributes around 4,000 of the 17,000 troops under the AU, and has around 15,000 additional soldiers in Somalia bilaterally: that is more than any other nation. Ethiopia had also withdrawn a small number of troops stationed in Somalia bilaterally, three sources told Reuters, but had decided against large-scale withdrawals. The government did not respond to requests for comment on the assertion. Last week, a spokesman for the taskforce said the offensive in Tigray would not lead Ethiopia to withdraw peacekeepers abroad. It was not clear whether the soldiers reportedly pulled out were Tigrayan or other troops destined for possible redeployment on the government side in Tigray. Earlier this month, the African Union fired its security head Gebreegziabher Mebratu Melese, a Tigrayan, after Ethiopia's defence ministry expressed concerns about him. US troops have already withdrawn from two bases in Somalia last month, and Trump is mulling pulling out most of the rest. Many of the 700 or so US forces in Somalia train and support Danab, the Somali special forces trained to hunt and kill senior leaders in the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgency. Al Shabaab has carried out deadly attacks on civilians throughout the East African region, including an attack on a US military base in Kenya that killed three Americans earlier this year. Danab, which is around 850 soldiers currently but planned to grow to around 3,000, is Somalia's most effective fighting force.
* PM Abiy's forces seeking to quell rebellious northern state * Conflict kills hundreds, creates refugee crisis * Tigray 'a hell to its enemies', say TPLF leaders * Foreign powers call for mediation talks * War destabilises wider Horn of Africa The rulers of Ethiopia's rebellious Tigray region refused on Wednesday to surrender to federal troops and instead claimed they were winning a war that has exacerbated ethnic fractures in the vast nation and further destabilised the Horn of Africa. ‘Tigray is now a hell to its enemies,’ they said in a statement on the two-week offensive against them. ‘The people of Tigray will never kneel.’ Ignoring international appeals for talks, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government is also claiming major victories and says its forces are marching on Tigray's capital Mekelle and will triumph shortly. The war has killed hundreds and possibly thousands on both sides, sent 30,000 refugees fleeing into Sudan, and called into question the reputation of Africa's youngest leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for a peace pact with Eritrea. Abiy, 44, ordered air strikes and sent soldiers into Tigray on Nov. 4 after accusing the well-armed local ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), of revolt and an attack on a government base. The TPLF says their former military comrade and one-time political partner has been persecuting their ethnic group and removing Tigrayan officials from senior security and government positions since he took office in 2018. In a lengthy statement, the Tigrayan leaders accused federal forces of targeting civilians, churches and homes, while blocking internet, electricity and banking services. Hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted from homes, it said. Nevertheless, Tigrayan forces had captured tanks and artillery and would soon drive their enemies out despite being massively outnumbered, it added. The government denies it is targeting civilians. 'GRAVEYARD OF DICTATORS' The northern state is largely cut off to the world as media are barred, most communications are down and foreign aid workers are pulling out, meaning Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by either side. ‘The wider world will soon testify the amazing victories achieved by the people and government of Tigray,’ the Tigrayan statement added. ‘Attempting to rule the people of Tigray by force is like walking on a burning flame ... Tigray will be the graveyard of dictators and aggressors and not their playground.’ Tigrayans who have fled to Sudan have told Reuters that militias from Amhara, the neighbouring state, attacked them because of their ethnicity and that government airstrikes were killing civilians. There have also been reports of Tigrayans losing jobs and facing discrimination around Ethiopia. Tigrayan leaders have used the word ‘genocide’. But Abiy's government has repeatedly denied an ethnic undertone, saying it is simply restoring law and order, pursuing criminals and guaranteeing national unity. ‘The federal government... denounces, in the strongest of terms, mischaracterization that this operation has an ethnic or other bias,’ its task force on the crisis said on Wednesday. Aiby is of mixed heritage, with parents from the Oromo and Amharic ethnic groups - the country's largest and second largest groups respectively. Tigrayans represent about 5% of Africa's second most populous country. They dominated national leadership between 1991 and 2018, before Abiy took the premiership and began opening up both the economy and a repressive political system. The government says rebel forces have destroyed bridges and a road connecting the regional capital Mekelle. Debretsion Gebremichael, elected Tigrayan president in polls that Ethiopia does not recognise, told Reuters in a text message his forces had fallen back but denied they destroyed bridges. ‘We have shifted our defence line and as a result they get into some towns of South Tigray,’ he added. Ethiopia's army is one of the strongest in Africa, but many senior officers were Tigrayan and plenty of its heavy weaponry were based in Tigray, which was on the front line of the two-decade standoff with Eritrea after a 1998-2000 war. But the Tigrayans are also a battle-hardened force with experience of fighting against Eritrea and spearheading the ouster of a Marxist dictatorship in 1991.
A military patrol has discovered 29 bodies in a region of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where civilians are facing a sharp rise in attacks by militants, local authorities said on Tuesday. The victims were found in the Beni territory of North Kivu province, local army spokesman Anthony Mualushay said, without giving further details or saying who was believed to be responsible. The province’s deputy governor, Lumoo Kahumbo, said initial findings showed the ADF, a Ugandan militia, were responsible for the massacre. "The provincial government of North Kivu strongly condemns this latest slaughter of civilians," Kahumbo said in a statement. A security source said it was suspected, based on the state of decomposition of their bodies and their location, that the victims were among the more than 1,400 men who escaped from Beni prison when it was attacked by suspected ADF fighters on Oct. 19. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group active in eastern Congo since the 1990s, have increased attacks on civilians in the region since the army launched a fresh offensive against the militia in October 2019. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by the ADF in 2019-2020, according to UN figures. A further six people were killed by the ADF in a separate attack on Tuesday in the village of Kokola, Kahumbo said.
* Expiration of three-day deadline signals push for Mekelle * PM Abiy's troops seek to oust rebellious leaders of Tigray * Two-week conflict rocks Horn of Africa region * Government resists foreign pressure for mediation Ethiopia's prime minister warned on Tuesday that a deadline for rebel northern forces to lay down arms had expired, paving the way for a final push on the Tigray region's capital in a two-week conflict destabilising the Horn of Africa. ‘The three-day ultimatum given to Tigray Special Forces and the militia to surrender ... has ended today,’ Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Facebook. ‘The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days.’ Africa's youngest leader and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Abiy launched air strikes and a ground offensive on Nov. 4 after accusing the local ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), of armed revolt. Tigrayan leaders say Abiy, 44, who comes from the largest ethnic group the Oromo, has persecuted and purged them from government and security positions since taking office in 2018. Tigrayan forces fired rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea this weekend, widening a conflict which has already killed hundreds - one diplomatic source said thousands - of combatants and civilians, and sent 25,000 refugees into Sudan. With communications mainly down and media barred, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by any side. Abiy's warning came after his forces struck unspecified TPLF targets outside the Tigray capital Mekelle, a government emergency task-force said. ‘The Ethiopian National Defense Forces indeed undertook precision-led and surgical air operations outside of Mekelle city,’ it said, adding that civilian areas were avoided. 'HEAVIER FIGHTING LIKELY' There was no immediate response from Tigray's leaders, though they have accused federal forces of knocking out a dam and a sugar factory as well as ‘mercilessly’ attacking people in the region of more than 5 million. Tigrayan forces might dig in as the military advances into more mountainous terrain towards Mekelle, said Matt Bryden, founder of Nairobi-based regional think-tank Sahan. ‘Heavier fighting is likely to start,’ he said. With hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans dependent on food aid even before the conflict, suffering is worsening fast even as humanitarian workers are scaling back for security reasons. A convoy of four buses and several cars, carrying about 400 foreigners from Mekelle, was expected to arrive in the capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday, five diplomatic sources said. Another convoy of about 200 people, mainly workers for international organisations, reached the capital on Monday. The United Nations and governments around Europe and Africa are pressing for talks and even the Nobel committee expressed deep concern and called for peace in a rare comment on the actions of a past laureate. But Abiy has resisted, saying he will only negotiate when rule of law is restored in Tigray. On Monday, his foreign minister went to Uganda and Kenya, while a Nigerian former president flew to Addis Ababa. Diplomats described a growing push for negotiations, but Ethiopia said it was simply explaining an internal conflict to outsiders. TPLF BANK ACCOUNTS FROZEN Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous country, has long been a diplomatic and economic heavyweight and Western ally in a region of conflict, poverty and militancy. Abiy has appealed for refugees to come home as his government promises the war will end quickly, though experts fear a protracted conflict given considerable military muscle on both sides. The fighting could jeopardise the recent opening up of Ethiopia's economy, stir ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around the vast nation of 115 million people, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy who won his Nobel for pursuing peace with Eritrea. The federal forces comprise around 140,000 personnel and are battle-hardened from fighting Somali militants, rebels in border regions and Eritrea in the past. But many senior officers were Tigrayan, much powerful weaponry is there, and the TPLF has seized the powerful Northern Command's headquarters in Mekelle. The TPLF itself is a formidable rival also with a proud history: it spearheaded the rebel march to Addis Ababa that ousted a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 and bore the brunt of the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that killed hundreds of thousands. State-affiliated Fana TV said Ethiopia had frozen the bank accounts of 34 TPLF institutions including construction, trading, engineering, printing, electrical and bus companies.
African leaders attempted Monday to kickstart some kind of mediation in Ethiopia's escalating internal conflict, two days after rocket strikes on Eritrea's capital highlighted risks that fighting could spread. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni held talks with Ethiopia's deputy prime minister Demeke Mekonnen, while former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo headed to Addis Ababa to make his bid for dialogue. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced November 4 he had ordered military operations in Tigray in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed so far in the conflict in Africa's second most populous country, some in a gruesome massacre documented last week by Amnesty International. More than 25,000 Ethiopians have fled into Sudan, Sudanese officials say. "A war in Ethiopia would give the entire continent a bad image," Museveni wrote on Twitter after meeting Demeke in the northern town of Gulu. "There should be negotiations and the conflict stopped, lest it leads to unnecessary loss of lives and cripples the economy." But Museveni later deleted the tweet, and an Ethiopian official said Demeke made clear negotiations weren't an immediate possibility. "We don't need mediation until we bring ringleaders to court," Redwan Hussein, spokesman for a crisis committee set up to respond to hostilities in Tigray, told reporters in Addis Ababa. "Any mediation would incentivise impunity and unruliness." Redwan added that Demeke would soon deliver the same message to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and other East African leaders. Meanwhile Nigeria's ex-president Obasanjo on Monday left for Addis Ababa to mediate in the crisis, his spokesman said, without giving further details. Both Abiy's office and the African Union said Monday they did not have information about Obasanjo's visit. Abiy's office also denied any steps towards mediation were taking place in Uganda. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told AFP Monday he was "not aware" of Museveni's initiative. Abiy's government has said the TPLF needs to be disarmed before negotiations can begin, as world leaders have called for an immediate end to hostilities. "The fact of the matter is that it is the TPLF which has violated the constitution and endangered the constitutional order," the upper house of parliament said in a statement Monday. "The federal government is merely working towards restoring it." Ethiopian generals have vowed to keep military operations contained in Tigray, and Abiy has repeatedly vowed to deliver a quick, decisive victory. Last week Abiy said federal forces had "liberated" the western zone of the Tigray region, which is made up of six zones plus the capital, Mekele, and surrounding areas. On Sunday state media reported that federal forces had seized Alamata, a town 180 kilometres south of Tigray. "As the TPLF militia were defeated in Alamata, they fled taking along around 10,000 prisoners," a government statement said. A communications blackout in Tigray has made claims of advances difficult to verify. The threat of fierce resistance from TPLF-aligned fighters "persists as the Tigray special forces have access to military assets and troops from the (national army) have defected to Tigray," said Sanya Suri, East Africa analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. However Suri predicted federal forces "will succeed in quashing the conflict in Tigray in the near term", albeit with "severe" casualties on both sides. In recent days the TPLF has extended the conflict beyond Tigray, launching rockets on airports in Ethiopia's Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south, and in the capital of Eritrea, Ethiopia's neighbour to the north. Debretsion has said the strikes are "legitimate" because federal forces are using the airports as part of their military operations in Tigray. The strikes on the Eritrean capital Asmara in particular have reinforced fears that Ethiopia's conflict could draw in the wider Horn of Africa region. The TPLF has accused Abiy's government of enlisting military support from Eritrea, something Ethiopia denies. At Monday's press conference, Redwan, the crisis committee spokesman, indicated the government held the TPLF responsible for the humanitarian fallout and accused it of deliberately spurring a refugee crisis. "They are trying to scare the Tigrayan people so that they can flee away from home and go to other areas, because then they can create a humanitarian crisis, which might also trigger international attention."
* Federal troops launched military offensive on Nov. 4 * Tigray says PM Abiy's forces have 'invaded' their state * Conflict may draw in Eritrea, destabilise Horn of Africa * Thousands of refugees flee to Sudan from cut-off region Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government said on Monday it had captured another town in the northern Tigray region after nearly two weeks of fighting in a conflict already spilling into Eritrea and destabilising the wider Horn of Africa. Hundreds have died, at least 20,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there have been reports of atrocities since Abiy ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray's rulers for defying his authority. The conflict could jeopardise a recent economic opening, stir up ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around Africa's second most populous nation, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the region of more than 5 million people, has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of soldiers over the border to support Ethiopian federal troops. Asmara denies that. Tigray forces fired rockets into Eritrea at the weekend. A task force set up by Abiy, Africa's youngest leader, to manage the conflict said federal troops had ‘liberated’ the town of Alamata from the TPLF. ‘They fled, taking along around 10,000 prisoners,’ it added, without specifying where those were from. ‘Residents say many youth above the age of 14 had already fled the area for fear of being recruited by TPLF.’ With communications mainly down and media barred, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides. There was no immediate comment from Tigray's leaders on events in Alamata, near the border with Amhara regional state, about 120 km (75 miles) from Tigray's capital Mekelle. FIGHTING SPREADS The fighting has spread beyond Tigray into Amhara, whose local forces are allied with Abiy's forces. On Friday, rockets were fired at two airports in Amhara in what the TPLF said was retaliation for government air strikes. Tigray leaders accuse Abiy, who is from the largest Oromo ethnic group, of persecuting them and purging them from government and security forces over the last two years. He says they rose up against him by attacking a military base. The Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) has around 140,000 personnel and plenty of experience from fighting militants in Somalia, rebel groups in border regions and a two-decade border standoff with Eritrea. But many senior officers were Tigrayan, much of its most powerful weaponry is there and the TPLF has seized the powerful Northern Command's headquarters in Mekelle. There are reports of defections of Tigrayan members of the ENDF. And the TPLF itself has a formidable history, spearheading the rebel march to Addis Ababa that ousted a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 and bearing the brunt of a 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that killed hundreds of thousands. Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki - a long-time foe of the Tigrayan leaders - controls a vast standing army which the United States' CIA puts at 200,000 personnel. Abiy once fought alongside the Tigrayans and was a partner in government with them until 2018 when he took office, winning early plaudits for pursuing peace with Eritrea, starting to liberalise the economy and opening a repressive political system. The United Nations and others have urged Abiy to negotiate with the Tigrayans and there have been reports Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's government could mediate. But Abiy's Tigray task force denied that and reiterated it was committed to ‘upholding rule of law’ in Tigray. It has previously said there will be no talks until Tigrayan leaders are arrested.
The Polisario Front said Sunday that it was mobilising "thousands of volunteers" to join its fighters in the disputed Western Sahara, as tensions with Morocco remain high. Rabat launched a military operation on Friday to reopen a key highway on the border between the territory and Mauritania which it said was blocked by the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for the Western Sahara. Moroccan and Mauritanian officials said Saturday that cargo traffic had resumed along the road, which is key for trade with the rest of Africa. In response to the operation, the Polisario declared the end of an almost three-decade UN-supervised ceasefire in Western Sahara. "Thousands of volunteers who have completed their training are preparing to head to the militarised regions," Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, foreign minister of the Polisario-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), told AFP on Sunday. "Hundreds of others" are undergoing training, he said, adding that "fighting is escalating" in the far south of the territory, without providing further details. The claims could not be independently verified. Rabat controls around three quarters of the Western Sahara, a vast swathe of desert on the Atlantic coast, including its phosphate deposits and its lucrative ocean fisheries. The Polisario controls the remainder. Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom and has offered autonomy for the disputed territory, but insists it will retain sovereignty. The Polisario, which proclaimed independence in 1976, demands a referendum on self-determination as set out in the 1991 ceasefire. The vote has been repeatedly postponed due to disputes between Rabat and the Polisario over voter rolls and the question the ballot would ask. Without providing any detail, the Polisario has in recent days reported attacks along the 2,700 kilometre (1,700 mile) long wall put in place by Morocco in the 1980s in the Western Sahara to prevent infiltration by Polisario fighters. The Moroccan military said it had secured the Guerguerat border crossing by installing "a security cordon" along the wall. Pictures released by the Moroccan army after the operation on Friday showed burning tents that had reportedly been used by the Polisario near the Mauritania border.
* Reported rocket strike in Eritrea a major escalation of war * Tigray leader: Eritrea deploying troops in support of Ethiopia * Ethiopia can achieve objectives 'by itself', PM says * 20,000 Ethiopians have fled into Sudan, U.N. says (Adds Egypt-Sudan military exercise and think-tank warning) The leader of Ethiopia's rebellious Tigray region confirmed on Sunday that his forces had fired rockets at the airport in Eritrea's capital, a major escalation that raises fears of a wider war in the Horn of Africa region. Accusing neighbouring Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of troops into Tigray in support of an Ethiopian government offensive, Debretsion Gebremichael said his forces were under attack "on several fronts." "Our country is attacking us with a foreign country, Eritrea. Treason!," Debretsion said in text messages to Reuters, without providing further details or evidence of his claims. With access restricted and most communications down in Tigray, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides about the 12-day conflict. Government officials in Eritrea and the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa could not be reached for comment. Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed tweeted Sunday that Ethiopia was more than capable of achieving its objectives in Tigray "by itself" but did not specifically address Debretsion's claims. Last week, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed told Reuters: "We are not part of the conflict." Abiy launched the campaign in Tigray on Nov. 4 after accusing local forces of attacking federal troops based in the northern state, which borders Eritrea and Sudan and is home to some 5 million people. The government accuses Tigray's leaders of treason and says its military operations are aimed at restoring the rule of law. Tigrayans dominated the governing coalition before Abiy, an Oromo, came to power in 2018. They say he has marginalised them since, which Abiy denies. The conflict has killed hundreds on both sides and threatens to destabilize other parts of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. At least 20,000 Ethiopians have fled into Sudan, the United Nations said on Sunday. The International Crisis Group, a think-tank, warned on Nov. 5 that any involvement by Eritrea in the conflict could in turn draw in Sudan. Egypt and Sudan launched a joint military exercise on Saturday, according to Egypt's defence ministry. The neighbours are deepening their ties amid a dispute with Ethiopia over the giant dam that Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile. Mehari Taddele Meru, a professor at the European University Institute, said the conflict would "turn the Horn of Africa into an international theatre of war" and that by drawing in rival regional forces it would "change the nature and terms of the proxy wars already being fought in Yemen, North Africa and the Middle East.” DEVASTATING WAR Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a devastating 1998-2000 war. Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Ethiopia's neighbour, but Eritrea's government remains hostile to the Tigray leadership after their leading role in that war. Five regional diplomats told Reuters that at least three rockets were fired at Eritrea's capital from Ethiopia on Saturday night. At least two of the rockets hit Asmara airport, three of the diplomats said. However, the U.S. Embassy in Asmara said in an alert to U.S. citizens on Sunday that there was no indication the airport had been hit. Debretsion told Reuters that Eritrea had sent 16 divisions to Ethiopia but did not provide specific troop numbers. Eritrea has a vast standing army which the United States' CIA puts at 200,000 personnel. Tigray's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), also accused Ethiopia of deploying drones from a military base in Eritrea belonging to the United Arab Emirates. "Abiy is now enlisting the support of UAE drones based in Assab in his devastating war against the people of Tigray," party spokesman Getachew Reda said in a tweet on Sunday. Reuters could not independently confirm that and UAE officials did not respond to requests for comment. Several Ethiopian refugees arriving in the Sudanese town of Hamdayat told Reuters on Saturday that their areas had been shelled from Eritrea. Reuters could not independently verify this. "We were shelled by artillery volleys from across the Eritrean border," said Naksiam Guru, a 22-year-old refugee. Fighting has spilled into Ethiopia's Amhara state, whose local forces are fighting with federal troops in Tigray. Late on Friday, rockets were fired at two airports in Amhara in what the TPLF said was retaliation for government air strikes. The government says the strikes aim to destroy equipment controlled by insurgent Tigray forces, who experts say possess significant military hardware.
The leader of the Tigray region of Ethiopia on Sunday claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on the airport in neighbouring Eritrea's capital, a move that ratcheted up fears of a wider conflict in the Horn of Africa region. Diplomats told AFP Saturday night that multiple rockets had struck the capital, Asmara, landing near the airport, though communications restrictions in Tigray and Eritrea made the reports difficult to verify. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced November 4 he had ordered military operations in Tigray in a dramatic escalation of a long-running feud with the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). "Ethiopian forces are also using the airport of Asmara," TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told AFP, saying this made the airport a "legitimate target" for the strikes. He added that his forces had also been fighting "16 divisions" of Eritrean forces in recent days "in several fronts". The TPLF has previously accused Abiy's government of enlisting military support from Eritrea, something Ethiopia denies. There was no immediate response from the Eritrean or Ethiopian governments on Sunday. Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the conflict in Africa's second most populous country, some in a gruesome massacre documented by Amnesty International. Thousands have fled the fighting and air strikes in Tigray, crossing into neighbouring Sudan. It was not immediately clear how many rockets were fired on Saturday night, where in Tigray they were fired from, whether they hit their targets or what damage they inflicted. The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades and fought a brutal 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea that left tens of thousands dead. Abiy came to power in 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year in large part for his effort to initiate a rapprochement with Eritrea.
Two airports in Ethiopia’s Amhara state, which neighbours Tigray where federal troops are fighting local forces, were targeted by rocket fire late on Friday, the government said, as an 11-day conflict widened. The airport in Gondar in Amhara state was hit on Friday, while another rocket aimed at the Bahir Dar airport missed the target, the government said. The ruling Tigray party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said that the Tigray Defence Forces conducted missile strikes in military bases in Bahir Dar and Gondar in retaliation for air strikes conducted by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s forces in various parts of the state. “Yesterday evening we’ve inflicted heavy damage on the military components of the Gondar and Bahir Dar airports,” Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the TPLF, said in a statement on the Facebook page of the Tigray state’s communications office. “As long as the attacks on the people of Tigray do not stop, the attacks will intensify.” He reiterated claims by the TPLF that Eritrean soldiers are involved in the fighting, which Ethiopia denies. Getachew said the TPLF would not hesitate to strike locations inside Eritrea – Ethiopia’s traditional foe – including its capital, Asmara. “Whether they lift from Asmara or Bahir Dar to attack Tigray ... we will commit retaliatory measures. We will undertake missile attacks on selected targets in addition to the airports,” Getachew said. “We will conduct missile attacks to foil military movements in Massawa and Asmara.” Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a brutal border war from 1998-2000 that left tens of thousands dead. Abiy won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize in large part for taking steps to end the nearly two-decade stalemate that followed. He announced last week that he had ordered military operations in Tigray, saying that the move came in response to attacks on federal military camps by the TPLF. Hundreds of people have been killed. The prime minister has said that government warplanes were bombing military targets in Tigray, including arms depots and equipment controlled by the Tigrayan forces. The government says its military operations are aimed at restoring the rule of law in the mountainous state of 5mn people. One of the rockets hit the airport in Gondar and partially damaged it, said Awoke Worku, spokesperson for Gondar central zone, while a second missile fired simultaneously landed just outside of the airport at Bahir Dar. “The TPLF junta is utilising the last of the weaponry within its arsenals,” the Ethiopian government’s emergency task force wrote on Twitter. The Amhara regional state’s forces have been fighting alongside their federal counterparts against Tigray’s fighters. Yohannes Ayele, a resident of Gondar, said he heard a loud explosion in the Azezo neighbourhood of the city at 10.30pm. Another resident of the area said the rocket had damaged the airport terminal building. The area was sealed off and firefighting vehicles were parked outside, the resident added. An Ethiopian Airlines worker who did not wish to be identified said flights to both Gondar and Bahir Dar airports had been cancelled after the attacks. The United Nations, the African Union and others are concerned that the fighting could spread to other parts of Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, and destabilise the wider Horn of Africa region. More than 14,500 people have fled into neighbouring Sudan, with the speed of new arrivals “overwhelming the current capacity to provide aid”, the UN refugee agency said on Friday. Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission, appointed by the government but independent, said it was sending investigators to the town of Mai Kadra in Tigray, where Amnesty International this week reported what it said was evidence of mass killings. Amnesty International said on Thursday that possibly hundreds of civilians were stabbed and hacked to death in the region on November 9, citing witnesses. It said it had not been able to independently confirm who was responsible, but said the witnesses had blamed fighters loyal to Tigray’s local leaders. The Tigray state government denied involvement in the reported killings. “TPLF absolutely refutes allegations the TPLF members and the Tigray special police force were involved in this most tragic event,” it said in a statement. The rights commission said in a statement it would investigate all allegations of human rights violations in the conflict. Abiy’s government has said the TPLF needs to be disarmed before negotiations can begin, frustrating world leaders who are calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Abiy on Friday declared the TPLF was in the “throes of death”, but the party has vowed to fight on. A communications blackout in the region has made it difficult to assess competing claims about how the fighting is going. Military officials have vowed to keep the conflict contained in Tigray, and Abiy has repeatedly promised a quick, decisive victory. But Amhara and Tigray are embroiled in long-running disputes over land along their shared border that analysts worry could draw Amhara into the conflict. Thousands of Amhara militiamen have already headed towards Tigray to fight alongside federal forces, according to Amhara security officials. Humanitarian workers warn Tigray is facing a major crisis. “We can’t reach the people we need to provide services to,” Catherine Sozi, the UN’s resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Ethiopia, told AFP on Friday, citing the communications blackout, road closures, and shortages of water, fuel and cash. “We’re concerned that every hour, every day that the conflict continues, the most vulnerable people become even more vulnerable.” The UN is lobbying Abiy’s government for full humanitarian access. The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in 2018 on the back of several years of anti-government protests. Since then, the TPLF has complained of being sidelined and scapegoated for the country’s woes. The feud grew more bitter after Tigray went ahead with its own elections in September – defying a nationwide ban on all polls imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic – and tried to brand Abiy an illegitimate ruler.