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Military escalation continues in northern Ethiopia. Three days after the resumption of fighting in the Tigray region, which ended a five-month ceasefire between the Tigrayan rebels and the authorities in Addis Ababa, the province experienced a violent shock, Friday August 26, with the bombing that killer of a school in Makalé, the capital of Tigray province.
At the end of the morning, the Ethiopian air force carried out an air raid on the city, a stronghold of the rebels of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (FPLT), in the war against the central power since November 2020. The strike was shot by Red Kids Paradise Kindergarten, a preschool. Images relayed on Tigrayan television showed bodies lying on the ground, the school shattered by the impact. Kibrom Gebreselassie, director of Ayder Hospital, the city’s largest, said his facility received four dead, including two children, and nine wounded.
Hours after the bombing, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a statement accusing “the FPLT group for continuing attacks”. So, the Ethiopian army “take actions targeting its military forces”, he warned, while commanding the population of Tigrayan “to stay away from FPLT military equipment and training centers”. Addis Ababa knows, however, that this warning will not be heard in Tigray, deprived of electricity and telecommunications for more than a year.
Fear of a “big confrontation”
Does such an attack against the civilian population mark the beginning of a new major conflict, while the fighting in recent days has remained localized in southern Tigray? “Until Friday, I thought that the Ethiopian government and the FPLT were bluffing by carrying out large-scale military maneuvers, but after this airstrike, I am afraid that we have reached the point of no return”explains a Tigrayan politician in exile, who wishes to remain anonymous.
This new outbreak of violence threatens to bury the hopes for peace that the international community has nurtured for five months, added a Western diplomat stationed in Ethiopia, who is now afraid “a great battle”. Engaged since March in a humanitarian truce, the two parties began tentative talks. Despite some gestures of goodwill – the continuation of food aid to Tigray and the release of prisoners of war – the two sides have never been able to join a table.
Other airstrikes took place this Friday on the southern front, in the Raya Azebo region, where most of the recent fighting has been concentrated. “This disputed area between Tigray and the neighboring Amhara region is very important for the FPLT, because it is currently the only grain basket in the province”, assured a humanitarian worker stationed in Ethiopia. The next harvest will not take place until October in Tigray, where 47% of the population is already in a state of severe food insecurity, according to the World Food Program (WFP).
The region has lived, until recently, under the infusion of food aid convoys, but they are now interrupted by the continuation of the fighting. On Wednesday August 24, in a warehouse in Makalé, FPLT soldiers also confiscated 570,000 liters of fuel that the Tigrayan party first lent to the WFP to carry out the distribution of food aid. A work “Scandalous and shameful”denounced WFP Director David Beasley. ” that highlights that a major conflict is developing”, said a diplomat in Addis Ababa.
In a rare public speech on the subject, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization, himself from Tigray and a former executive of the FPLT, confided that he had lost contact with his relatives in which he described as “world’s worst disaster”. “I can’t send them money. They are hungry, I know that. I cannot share with them what I have, because they are completely isolated. I don’t talk to them. I haven’t spoken to them in a long time.”he said in a press conference, the day after the continuation of the battle.
On the side of the belligerents, a crazy game began, each party trying to show in the eyes of foreign partners that they are still open to hypothetical negotiations. “That the international community stop indulging Abiy, put pressure on the regime [éthiopien] and pushing for good faith negotiations”tweeted Getachew Reda, spokesperson of the Tigrayan insurgents. “We call on the international community to force the FPLT to join the peaceful option proposed by our government”, read a statement from the Addis Ababa authorities. The north of Ethiopia, however, seems to have fallen into a fratricidal war.