At least 20 civilians have been killed and some 70,000 displaced as rebel forces from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region mount attacks on neighbouring Afar region, Ethiopian officials say.
At least 20 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands displaced in clashes between rebels and pro-government forces in Ethiopia’s Afar region, which borders war-hit Tigray, an official said.
“The heavy fighting is still continuing. So totally about 70,000 are affected directly and they are displaced… More than 20 civilians are dead,” Mohammed Hussen said on Thursday, an official with Ethiopia’s national disaster response agency based in Afar.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to oust the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Though he declared victory later that month, fighting has dragged on, killing thousands of people and plunging hundreds of thousands into famine, according to the United Nations.
Tigrayan fighters crossed into Afar
Forces from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region have mounted attacks in neighbouring Afar region, marking an expansion of an eight-month-old conflict into a previously untouched area.
Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces, confirmed on Sunday they had been fighting over the weekend in Afar.
“We are not interested in any territorial gains in Afar, we are more interested in degrading enemy fighting capabilities,” he said via satellite phone.
He said that Tigrayan forces had repelled militias from Ethiopia’s Oromiya region who had been sent to fight alongside the Afar regional forces.
READ MORE: Clashes reported between Ethiopian troops, Tigrayan forces in refugee camp
Yet Mohammed, the disaster response official, indicated Thursday that the operations were wider in scope and that civilians were caught in the crossfire.
“As we know the junta crossed the border to Afar and attacked the innocent pastoral community,” he said, using a term that government officials employ to refer to the TPLF, which is officially considered a terrorist organisation.
“They are trying to subjugate the Afars. So now the federal forces are joining the Afar special forces, the Afar local communities, the Afar militias. In the last days, the Afars were fighting and protecting themselves.”
Fighting in Tigray conflict
Thousands of people have died in the Tigray conflict so far.
About 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes and more than 5 million are relying on emergency food aid.
Ethiopia has a federal system with 10 regions and in the past week, the conflict in Tigray has drawn in regional forces around the country as they deploy to support the federal military.
By the end of June, the TPLF retook Mekelle and most of Tigray after the government withdrew soldiers and declared a unilateral ceasefire.
READ MORE: Ethiopia’s Tigray forces free 1,000 captured soldiers
READ MORE: Ethiopia’s unilateral ceasefire doesn’t mean peace for Tigray
Source: TRTWorld and agencies