Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, was again targeted on Friday by at least one rocket fired from the breakaway region of Tigray, against which the Ethiopian army is carrying out a military operation which, according to Addis Ababa, is in its “last phase” .
This rocket fire, confirmed to AFP by four diplomats based in the Horn of Africa and having requested anonymity, rekindles fears of a regional escalation of the conflict.
“A rocket coming from Tigray seems to have landed south of Asmara,” said one of the four diplomats, stressing that no information was immediately available on possible victims or damage.
A second diplomat said another rocket fire was reported in a neighborhood in Asmara, but this information could not be verified.
No leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that runs the region, was immediately reachable. Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea have yet made a statement.
The TPLF had already claimed responsibility in mid-November for several rocket attacks on Asmara, which fell near the airport. He also targeted the neighboring region of Amhara three times with similar weapons.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday ordered the army to launch the “last phase” of the military operation launched on November 4, by attacking Mekele, the capital of Tigray. But no information filtered on the situation on the spot.
The Tigrayan leaders, from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, are entrenched in Mekele, now surrounded by federal forces. The city had some 500,000 inhabitants before the start of the conflict.
The international community, worried about the consequences of an assault on civilians as well as possible “war crimes”, is trying to put pressure on Mr. Abiy. But he firmly rejected any “interference in the internal affairs” of his country.
Refusal of mediation and ” [maintien] of the order “
Among other initiatives, the African Union (AU), headquartered in Addis Ababa, has appointed three special envoys, former Mozambican presidents Joaquim Chissano, Liberian Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and South African Kgalema Motlanthe, who arrived in the capital on Wednesday. Ethiopian.
The Ethiopian government undertook to meet them “out of respect” but had politely declined this offer of mediation in advance, like all the previous ones.
On Friday, the Prime Minister thus expressed in a statement his “gratitude” to them, welcoming their commitment to propose “African solutions to African problems”.
But he also recalled that his government had “the constitutional responsibility to maintain order. [au Tigré] and across the country ”, underlining the patience he has long shown in the face of“ provocations ”and the“ destabilization agenda ”of the TPLF.
Thursday, after a meeting with the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Demeke Mekonnen, his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, condemned in a press release the “ethnic violence” and called for “measures protection of civilian populations. “
The Pope Francis launched “to the parties to the conflict a call to stop the violence, to save the lives, in particular of the civilians, so that the populations can find peace”, indicated Friday the Vatican in a statement.
No precise assessment of the fighting in Tigray is so far available, but the NGO International Crisis Group estimates in a statement released Friday evening that “several thousand people died in the fighting”.
In addition, more than 43,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Entrenched in Mekele
On Friday, 24 hours after the order given to the federal army, it was not possible to know whether the offensive against Mekele had actually started.
Regional authorities said on Friday that the federal army was bombing ” [leurs] cities and [leurs] villages ”,“ inflicting heavy damage ”, without specifically mentioning Mekele.
“Our struggle will continue in all directions and strengthen until the self-determination of the people of Tigray is guaranteed and the invader is driven out of Tigray,” they said in a statement read on the television channel. Tigray Tigray TV.
“As always, we call on the people of Tigray to fight and defend themselves against our enemies,” they added.
Verification on the ground and from independent sources of the claims of one camp and the other is difficult, as Tigray has been virtually cut off from the world since the start of the conflict.
On Thursday, the Ethiopian state-run television station EBC said TPLF leaders were holed up in various locations in Mekele, including a cement factory, museum and auditorium, communicating “by military radio”.
Spearheading the armed struggle against the military-Marxist regime of the Derg, overthrown in 1991, the TPLF then controlled the political and security apparatus of Ethiopia for almost 30 years.
Gradually removed from power in Addis Ababa by Mr. Abiy from the moment he became prime minister in 2018, the party continues to dominate his stronghold of Tigray.
Tensions between Mr. Abiy and the TPLF have continued to grow, culminating in September with the organization in Tigray of a regional election described as “illegitimate” by Addis Ababa, then with the attack in early November, according to the report. government, of two bases of the federal army by the forces of the TPLF, which denies the latter.