ADDIS ABABA: Rebels in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray have carried out operations against pro-government troops in neighbouring Afar region, a spokesman said on Sunday, opening a new front in the widening eight-month conflict.

The “very limited action” targeted special forces and militia fighters from Oromia region, Ethiopia’s largest, who were massing along the Tigray-Afar border, the rebel spokesman, Getachew Reda, said.

“We took those actions to ensure those forces are sent back to Oromia, and we have managed to do that,” Getachew said, adding that there were some casualties but he could not provide figures.

“Our action was very limited to dispersing the peasant militia from Oromia that was mostly press-ganged into fighting the useless war.” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to detain and disarm leaders of the region’s then-ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate declared victory in late November after government forces took the Tigray capital Mekele, but TPLF leaders remained on the run and fighting continued.

Last month the war took a stunning turn when pro-TPLF forces retook Mekele, Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire and the army mostly pulled out of Tigray.

But after rebel leaders launched a new offensive intended to regain control of western and southern Tigray — contested areas that have been occupied by fighters from Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south — Abiy vowed to “repel” them.

The government has since mobilised forces from regions that had previously been untouched by the conflict, including Oromia.A state media report published on Saturday night accused the TPLF, which the government deems a terrorist organisation, of blocking aid into Tigray via Afar using “heavy shelling” and “heavy artillery.” “Rejecting the ceasefire by the federal government, TPLF is trying hard to expand the conflict into Afar region,” the Ethiopian News Agency report said. Getachew denied any aid delivery had been disrupted.

“Where the fighting happened, there is no major highway that is being used for aid purposes,” he said.

Getachew confirmed on Sunday that rebel units were also active in northern Amhara region, where last week journalists saw thousands of militia fighters mobilising in border towns in advance of planned anti-TPLF operations.

“We have also conducted successful operations in Wag Hemra, which is in Amhara region, and even as we speak some units are operating in between Mai Tsebri (in western Tigray) and adjoining Amhara territory,” he said.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday, Abiy referred to the TPLF “junta” as “Ethiopia’s cancer”.

“As the saying goes, a Satan which stays long cannot be removed immediately,” he said.

“It is inevitable that it resists in one way or another. But surely, the junta will be removed so that it will not grow again.”

When they re-entered Mekele in late June, TPLF leaders announced they were holding more than 7,000 Ethiopian soldiers, many of whom were marched through the city’s streets.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2021

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