In what could lead Africa’s most populous countries to slide into a civil war, the Ethiopia Air Force MiG-23BM fighter jets began conducting airstrikes targeting Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Tigray’s capital, Mekele.
The attacks began on Wednesday evening. The jets took off from Bahir Dar in western Ethiopea. U.A.E. armed drones were also reportedly seen hovering over Ethiopean skies.
Violence escalated earlier this month after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed that the well-armed Tigray military attacked a national military base. He responded by sending in troops to bomb the TPLF-governed region.
Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to normalize relations with Eritrea, which shares a border with Tigray. Eritrea was once a part of Ethiopia but gained independence in 1993. From 1998 to 2000, the two countries fought a bitter war that left tens of thousands dead and their relationship had severed. They finally made peace in 2018.
Tigrayan regional president Debretsion Gebremichael alleged that Eritrea sent troops and tanks over the border into Tigray to support Abiy. Ethiopea is said to be using an Eritrean airport to attack Tigray.
On November 14, in what it claims to be a retaliatory attack, the Tigrayan forces fired missiles at targets in Eritrea.
Hundreds of refugees have fled to neighboring Sudan fearing being caught in the brutality.
If the conflict were to spill outside Ethiopia’s borders, it may potentially destabilise the Horn of Africa region. “The stability of Ethiopia is important for the entire Horn of Africa region. I call for an immediate de-escalation of tensions and a peaceful resolution to the dispute,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres had said in a Twitter post on November 6.
The U.S. and China have several strategic military bases in that region, the closest being Djibouti. Russia is planning to build a naval facility capable of mooring nuclear-powered surface vessels, in Sudan.