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TPLF resumes fighting in Ethiopia's Afar region

Rebels resume raids after retreating last month
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The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) announced on Tuesday that it is conducting "heavy" military operations in the northern region of Afar, adjacent to northern Tigray. The rebels said pro-government forces have intensified attacks on their positions in recent days. "We have been forced to take strong action to neutralise the threat," the Tigray Foreign Affairs Office said in an official statement on Twitter. The TPLF also assured that the Tigray Army "does not plan to remain in Afar for long and does not want the conflict to deteriorate further".

These operations are the first military offensives after TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael announced last month the withdrawal of rebel militias to northern Ethiopia, leaving the Amhara and Afar regions free, in an attempt to ease tensions since the civil war began in 2020. 

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According to the official statement from the Afar authorities, the Tigrayan rebels have seized some border towns and continue fighting. "In an attempt to compensate for their previous defeat in Afar, TPLF forces have moved deeper into Afar and are intensifying fighting in Kilbatti Rasu province," the statement announced.

The latest attacks come after Ethiopian army general Abebaw Tadesse said in a television interview that military operations would not cease until the TPLF is eliminated. "The war is not over. We will enter Tigray for a second phase of operations and eliminate the enemy," Tadesse said.

The rebels justify this military incursion on the grounds that the federal government had previously "provoked clashes as an excuse to prevent the access of humanitarian supplies to the region". According to TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda, the Afar regional authorities prevented a convoy of 27 UN trucks from entering the region to break the blockade of humanitarian supplies in Tigray, which the institution has confirmed. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on 14 January that the escalating conflict has meant that no convoys have reached Mekele, the capital of Tigray, since mid-December.

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Addis Ababa blames the TPLF for the latest hostilities and warns that the rebels were aiming to "cut off the main artery of humanitarian aid to Tigray". These statements come as the TPLF in turn accuses the federal government of targeting civilians in alleged air strikes on Tigray. According to EFE news agency, army general Yilma Merdassa said in an interview with the Ethiopian News Agency that troops use "modern technologies and sophisticated weapons with which they define "who and what to target so that civilians are not targeted". The general also claimed that allegations that the latest aerial blasts caused civilian casualties is a "propaganda" product of the TPLF to mislead the international community.

The comments came after the UN said more than 50 civilians were killed in air strikes ordered from Addis Ababa, including refugees. "Recent attacks have left several civilians, including children, dead and many more injured," Unicef said in a statement.

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These latest developments further inflame the situation in Ethiopia's civil war that began in 2020 between the federal government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front. This war has already left more than five million people in need of humanitarian aid in Tigray and the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, according to UN data, a situation that the institution describes as "on the brink of humanitarian disaster". In addition, thousands of people have died as a result of the conflict and more than two million people have been displaced to other regions and countries.

Meanwhile, the Nobel Committee reminds the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, that he has a "special responsibility" to put an end to the conflict in the country, as the Prime Minister was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending the war with Eritrea.