News Highlights Extra: Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

On Wednesday 4 November, tensions escalated in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Disputes between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Tigray and the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led to fighting in the Tigray region and at its borders. As the situation evolves, EEPA is sending extra news highlights on the conflict. Experts emphasise that the international community must speak with one voice to urge de-escalation of the conflict, and urge all parties involved in the conflict to enter into peaceful dialogue.  




International community calls for de-escalation of the conflict in Tigray
Several international bodies, including the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) urged Ethiopian authorities to de-escalate tensions and implement an immediate ceasefire in the country. According to press release statements, the international community offered support to the Government of Ethiopia to hold peace and reconciliation dialogues to ensure protection of civilians and to uphold human rights. The stability of Ethiopia is crucial for the overall stability, peace and security in the whole Horn of Africa region. 

Conflict intensifies despite international appeals for de-escalation
Various media has reported on the escalation of the conflict and heavy fighting in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, while the experts, civil society and international community have been urging for immediate cessation of hostilities and peaceful dialogue. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation in the regional state of Tigray on Wednesday, 4 November. The media has reported that the first days of heavy fighting have resulted in casualties. “De-escalation of the conflict is now a crucial effort that must be undertaken by all involved” says Professor Mirjam van Reisen in Bureau Buitenland.  

Refugees from Ethiopia are crossing to neighbouring Sudan
Thousands of refugees crossed the border with Sudan fleeing from the conflict that has erupted in Ethiopia over the past week, report several news agencies. Sudanese media reported 10.000 refugees entering over the weekend, most from the Amhara region. The refugees, civilians as well as soldiers, have reportedly been accepted by Sudanese authorities. Alsir Khaled, head of Sudan’s refugee agency in Kassala, said to AlJazeera that “hundreds more civilians arriving were yet to be processed by authorities”. Sudanese officials have started to prepare for a major influx that could amount to as much as 200,000 refugees, reports the Associated Press. Local communities have started to build a refugee camp for fleeing Ethiopians, while NGOs call for humanitarian assistance. 

Protection of Eritrean refugees in Tigray region endangered amid conflict
There is concern over the safety and protection of Eritrean refugees currently residing in the refugee camps in Tigray region, Ethiopia. The current conflict jeopardizes the already dire situation of  Eritrean refugees. In addition, NGOs expressed concern that the current circumstances make it difficult to maintain sufficient supplies. With the shutdown of telephone, internet and all transportation means to and from Tigray region, humanitarian organisations urge government authorities to ensure that refugees will get all appropriate services, food and protection. “We’ve had to relocate staff from one of our camps and we only have one month of fuel left to run water pumps for 90,000 refugees in Tigray,” warned the International Rescue Committee. 

Civil Society and religious leaders urge peaceful dialogue
The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum (HoACS) and the Eritrean Research Institute for Policy and Strategy (ERIPS) issued urgent appeals to the international community to strengthen diplomatic efforts and mediation amid the escalating military conflict in the Tigray region. HoACS expressed concern “that the violence may spread to the other parts of Ethiopia” and may cause destabilisation of the Horn of Africa region. Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia also called for peace and reconciliation. The Bishops said for Vatican News that, over the past fews days, tensions have escalated “[d]espite the efforts of religious leaders, elders and other interested parties to defuse the ongoing conflict”. 

Spread of false information amid the conflict in Ethiopia
Misinformation and disinformation constitutes a risk to further exacerbate the conflict. Older images displaying missile defense systems and fighter jets were manipulated and spread on social media. Videos showing armed conflicts in Armenia were falsely attributed to fighting between federal and Tigray military forces. The spread of misinformation is intensified by the shutdown of internet and phone lines which limits reliable communications to and from the Tigray region. 

Think tanks and humanitarian organisations warn of possibility of regional destabilisation
Think tanks, research organisations and humanitarian organisations are warning about the possible regional and humanitarian impact of the conflict in Ethiopia. “Unless urgently halted, the ongoing armed confrontation between Ethiopia’s federal forces and those commanded by the northern Tigray region’s leadership will be devastating not just for the country but for the entire Horn of Africa.” Stated the International Crisis Group