Addis Ababa/Johannesburg, 25 November 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the international community on Wednesday not to interfere in the conflict in the Tigray region, as his 72-hour deadline for rebels to surrender was set to expire.
“As a sovereign state, Ethiopia has every right to uphold and enforce its laws within its own territory,” Abiy said in a statement. “We reject any interference in our internal affairs.”
On Sunday Abiy announced that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had 72 hours to surrender, but the group has previously said it won’t stop fighting or negotiate until the federal government pulls troops out of Tigray.
Nobel-laureate Abiy, who received the prize last year for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea, has been under considerable pressure from the international community since the conflict started three weeks ago.
On Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed alarm at reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, while Josep Borrell, European Union foreign policy chief, called for “the cessation of hostilities.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres has also expressed concern at the situation – which Abiy refers to not as a conflict but as a “law enforcement operation.”
Meanwhile, US president-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday expressed concern over “violence against civilians, including potential war crimes.”
“Both sides should immediately begin dialogue facilitated by the AU,” he tweeted.
The conflict between the Ethiopian government and Tigray began earlier this month when Abiy deployed troops to put down an uprising by the TPLF.
The TPLF long dominated Ethiopian politics, but since taking office in 2018, reformist Abiy has been at odds with the elites in Tigray, purging them from government and state institutions.
Both sides have reported bloodshed, but an internet blackout and blocked telephone lines make it difficult to get a sense of what is happening on the ground in Tigray.
Hundreds have reportedly been killed and more than 40,000 Ethiopians fleeing the fighting have now entered neighbouring Sudan.