ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Forces from Ethiopia’s rebel Tigray region fired rockets on Friday into the city of Bahir Dar in the neighbouring Amhara region but caused no casualties or damage, the Amhara government said, as federal forces moved towards the Tigray capital. The conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed hundreds over the past two […]
Ethiopia’s Tigray forces fire rockets into city, no casualties
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Forces from Ethiopia’s rebel Tigray region fired rockets on Friday into the city of Bahir Dar in the neighbouring Amhara region but caused no casualties or damage, the Amhara government said, as federal forces moved towards the Tigray capital.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed hundreds over the past two weeks, sent 33,000 refugees into Sudan, and thrown into question whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed can hold his ethnically divided nation together ahead of elections next year.
“The illegal TPLF group have launched a rocket attack around 1:40 a.m. in Bahir Dar,” the Amhara government’s communications office said on its Facebook page, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
“The rockets have caused no damage.”
The northern-based TPLF effectively ruled Ethiopia for decades as the strongest force in a multi-ethnic coalition, until Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, took power two years ago after years of bloody protests against government repression.
He freed thousands of political prisoners, lifted bans on many political parties and put on trial many officials from the old regime for crimes such as murder or corruption.
The Tigrayans accused him of purging them from positions of power, accusations his government denies.
Amhara, which has a long-running border dispute with Tigray, has sent regional forces in support of the federal troops.
“I heard two explosions,” said a local journalist, adding that the scene had been sealed off. “I was told that it happened near the airport.”
Another resident also heard two explosions.
“I was told by friends who were in the area that it happened near the airport and a farm,” he said.
A week ago, Tigray forces fired rockets at two airports in Amhara. They have also fired at rockets at the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, which has a long-running enmity with the TPLF leadership.
Reports of ethnically motivated killings have emerged during the conflict.
Rights group Amnesty International documented a mass killing of civilians, many of whom appeared to be Amhara, by what it says were Tigrayan forces on Nov. 9-10, and refugees fleeing the conflict into Sudan have said they were targeted for being Tigrayan.
Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in the Tigray capital of Mekelle on Thursday. There was no immediate response from the government, although officials have said they are only attacking military targets.
It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet links to Tigray have been severed since the conflict began.
On Thursday, Ethiopia said it was closing in on Mekelle, which the rebels have said they are fighting to defend.
Africa’s second most populous nation of 115 million people, Ethiopia is a federation of 10 states run by separate ethnic groups, many of whom have used the new freedoms ushered in by Abiy to jostle with each other and the government for more power, money or land.
Of those, mountainous Tigray – which accounts for about 5% of the population – is smaller but has a long history of dominating the security services.
Tigrayans are also proud of their long history of guerrilla warfare; they spearheaded a conflict that toppled a Communist regime in 1991.
(Graphic: Violent clashes in Ethiopia kill hundreds, https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/gjnvwbbgjpw/ethiopia-conflict_clashes.jpg)
(Graphic: Refugees flee escalating violence in Ethiopia, https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/oakvexxgxpr/ethiopia-conflict_refugees.jpg)
(Writing by George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)