Ethiopian PM rejects international ‘interference’ in Tigray conflict

Government deadline looms for forces to surrender in region of five million people

Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed: Calls the conflict a “law enforcement operation”. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Ethiopia's prime minister has rejected a growing international consensus for dialogue and a halt to fighting in the Tigray region as "interference", saying his country will handle the conflict on its own as a 72-hour surrender ultimatum runs out.

Ethiopia "appreciates the well-meaning concerns of our friends", the statement from Abiy Ahmed's office said on Wednesday, shortly before the end of his ultimatum for Tigray regional leaders to surrender. But he added: "We reject any interference in our internal affairs."

The statement added: “The international community should stand by until the government of Ethiopia submits its requests for assistance to the community of nations.

“We respectfully urge the international community to refrain from any unwelcome and unlawful acts of interference.”


Mr Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, calls the conflict a “law enforcement operation” while tanks encircle the Tigray capital, Mekelle, in a final push to arrest the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

His government has warned the city's half-million residents to move away from the TPLF leaders or there will be "no mercy" – language the United Nations human rights chief and others have warned could lead to "further violations of international humanitarian law".

Communications hit

Communications remain almost completely severed to the Tigray region of about five million people, complicating efforts to verify the warring sides’ claims.

Under the circumstances, it is not clear how many people in Mekelle are aware of the warnings and the threat of artillery fire in the coming hours.

Diplomats on Tuesday said UN Security Council members in a closed-door meeting expressed support for an African Union-led effort to deploy three high-level envoys to Ethiopia.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s government for more than a quarter of a century, but was sidelined after Mr Abiy took office in 2018 and sought to centralise power in a country long ruled along ethnic lines.

The TPLF opted out when he dissolved the ruling coalition, then infuriated the federal government by holding an election in September after national elections were postponed by Covid-19. Each side now regards the other as illegal.

The international community has called for communications to be restored to the Tigray region so the two sides’ claims can be investigated, and so food and other desperately needed supplies can be sent.

The UN says it has been unable to send supplies into Tigray since the fighting began on November 4th when Mr Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a military base.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed in three weeks of fighting, while more than 40,000 refugees have fled into Sudan, and nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees at camps in northern Tigray have come close to the line of fire.

Misery continues for the refugees in Sudan, with little food, medicine, shelter, funding or contact with loved ones left behind in Tigray. "We are absolutely not ready," said Suleiman Ali Mousa, the governor of Qadarif province.

Reports continue of alleged targeting of ethnic Tigrayans, even outside Ethiopia.

Mr Abiy’s government has said it aims to protect civilians, including Tigrayans, but reports continue of arrests, discrimination, house-to-house searches and frozen bank accounts. – AP