Ethiopia aims to take control of airports in north as conflict rages

Ethiopia aims to seize airports and other key infrastructure in the north of the country currently under the control of Tigray regional forces, the government said on Monday even as it stated it wanted a negotiated solution.

The Ethiopian government and its allies, who include neighbouring Eritrea’s army, have been fighting Tigray forces on and off since late 2020. The conflict has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions, and left hundreds of thousands now facing possible famine.

“It is … imperative that the government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities, and installations in the region,” the government communication service said in a statement.

While pursuing these objectives, it said, the government was committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict through African Union-led peace talks.

A spokesman for the Tigray forces, Getachew Reda, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Tigray authorities said on Sunday their forces would abide by an immediate truce and said a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding.

The conflict stems from grievances rooted in periods of Ethiopia’s turbulent past when particular regional power blocs held sway over the country as a whole, and in tensions over the balance of power between the regions and the central state.

The latest flare-up began in August after months of ceasefire, with each side blaming the other.

Peace talks proposed for earlier this month in South Africa were delayed with no new date announced. Diplomats involved in trying to get the talks going have said privately that momentum was lacking despite both sides saying they wanted talks.

“We seem to be trending towards a launch of talks. We’re impatient. People are dying. This needs to get going,” a senior Western official said.

Both sides deny each other’s accusations of launching attacks that have harmed civilians.

Diplomatic and humanitarian sources have reported daily shelling of populated areas in Tigray. The African Union called on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire and for humanitarian aid to resume.

U.S. officials including Samantha Power, the head of the development agency USAID, and Mike Hammer, Washington’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, have also called for the violence to stop and have condemned the Eritrean military’s involvement.

“Eritrea’s re-entry into Ethiopia has made matters significantly worse, it needs to withdraw and respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty – as should others who are fuelling the conflict,” Hammer said.

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