Read Time: 2 minutes
Two rebel groups fighting Ethiopia’s government claimed to have taken a string of strategic towns as the prime minister urged citizens to arm themselves and join the fight.
Fighters from the northern Tigray region said that they were in control of Dessie and Kombolcha, which sit on the main road to Addis Ababa and host tens of thousands of displaced people who fled fighting further north.
Separately, rebels from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) said that they had seized control of Kemise, a town 33 miles south of Dessie, also on the highway to the capital. The organisation draws its support from the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and is allied to the Tigray rebels.
Displaced children play in Dessie, where phone lines are downJEMAL COUNTESS/GETTY IMAGES
A government spokesman said that there was fighting in the towns but refused to comment on the rebel claims. Phone lines to Dessie were down. Last week residents said that they could hear the constant rumble of rebel artillery near by and they described people fleeing in cars laden with household items.
War erupted in November last year after months of tensions between the Tigray leadership and the federal government. The military initially succeeded in toppling Tigray’s regional government but the rebels retook much of the region in June.
Since then the rebels have pushed deep into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, where they have been accused of atrocities. Residents of Kobo, a town in Amhara, said that rebels had gone door to door killing young men when fighting between armed local farmers and Tigrayan fighters broke out there in September.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/GKoa6/1
Government forces and their allies have been accused of human rights abuses in Tigray, including looting, mass rape and massacres.
Last month the government of Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister, launched an offensive involving tens of thousands of soldiers and militiamen aimed at dislodging the rebels and pushing them back into Tigray. Military jets have bombarded Mekelle, the Tigray capital.
However, the offensive appears to have faltered and the rebels have claimed significant gains, prompting Abiy to call on citizens to take up arms against them.
“The obligation to die for Ethiopia belongs to all of us,” he said in a Facebook post yesterday. Referring to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which leads the rebels, he added: “Therefore our people should march . . . with any weapon and resources they have to defend, repulse and bury the terrorist TPLF.”