Ethiopian Forces Plan Final Offensive in Dissident Region

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Bloomberg-Ethiopian government forces are planning a final offensive in the northern Tigray region, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said, as clashes intensified around a key town south of the dissident state’s capital.

The escalating violence sparked renewed calls for talks to end two weeks of fighting, which the United Nations warned risks spiraling out of control. Concerns about the damage the dispute might inflict on one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies has resulted in a sell-off of Ethiopian Eurobonds for nine straight days.

An ultimatum demanding that troops loyal to Tigray’s ruling party surrender to federal forces expired on Tuesday, Abiy said in a statement.

“Since the deadline ended, we will take the final and crucial law-enforcement actions in the coming days,” he said.

Why Ethiopia’s Tensions Are Boiling Over in Tigray: QuickTake

Hundreds of people have died and thousands have been displaced since Ethiopian soldiers began attacking Tigray on Nov. 4 after Abiy blamed the region’s government for a raid on a federal army base. Relations between Tigray and Abiy’s administration have been strained since he took office in 2018 and began consolidating power and sidelining the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which controlled the nation’s ruling coalition for two decades.

Opening Economy

The conflict has raised international concern of a full-blown civil war, at a time when the government is struggling to end ethnic violence that’s shaken Africa’s second-most populous nation. It may also delay plans to open up the economy to foreign investors and sell stakes in state companies.

Vodacom Ltd., South Africa’s biggest wireless carrier, said Monday it’s monitoring the crisis in Ethiopia before a planned investment decision. KCB Group, Kenya’s largest bank, said last week it’s postponed plans to expand into the northern neighbor.

Yields on the nation’s $1 billion of Eurobonds maturing in 2024 have risen 186 basis points since the conflict erupted. The yield traded at 8.12% in London on Tuesday, compared with 6.25% on Nov. 3.

Abiy’s government continued to rebuff calls for talks, after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday urged the warring sides to negotiate. On Tuesday, James Duddridge, the Minister for Africa at the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, called for an immediate de-escalation in the conflict and for civilians to be protected.

U.S. Concern

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also weighed in, condemning two Nov. 13 TPLF missile attacks on Ethiopia’s Bahir Dar and Gondar airports and another the following day on the airport in Asmara, the capital of neighboring Eritrea.

“We are deeply concerned by this blatant attempt by the TPLF to cause regional instability by expanding its conflict with Ethiopian authorities to neighboring countries,” Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday. “We appreciate Eritrea’s restraint, which has helped prevent further spreading of the conflict.”

Redwan Hussein, Ethiopia’s state minister of foreign affairs and spokesman for the government’s Emergency Task Force, said that while the concern was appreciated, it wasn’t yet ready to negotiate.

“We are saying: ‘Give us time,’” he told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa.

The conflict has spawned a humanitarian crisis in the region. Even before the latest spate of violence there were 96,000 refugees and 100,000 internally displaced people in Tigray, according to the UN.

“More than 25,000 refugees have now fled from the Tigray region of Ethiopia to Sudan,” Filippo Grande, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Twitter. “Resources are urgently needed to meet the basic needs of the refugees.”

Tigrayan President Debretsion Gebremichael on Tuesday reiterated his claim that the region is being attacked by Eritrea, which he said is deploying drones from a base in the port town of Assab. Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel didn’t answer calls seeking comment.

Debretsion also said that clashes have escalated around Alamata, about 180 kilometers (112 miles) south of the Tigrayan capital, Mekele. Two foreign diplomats confirmed that heavy fighting is taking place around the town, which Ethiopia’s government claimed on Sunday it had captured.

“Fighting is still continuing on all fronts,” Debretsion said.

— With assistance by Anthony Osae-Brown, and Jeremy Diamond

Sources Bloomberg.com