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Both sides claim big wins as Ethiopia fighting enters third week

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A woman carries an Ethiopian national flag in ceremonies at the prime minister’s compound in Addis Ababa on Wednesday to honour the armed forces. AFP

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – Both sides in Ethiopia’s raging internal conflict claimed military successes on Wednesday, creating a muddied picture of fighting even as the government promised it would soon be over.

Behind the rival claims, the region’s refugee crisis amplified as Sudan reported 36,000 people had now streamed across its borders to escape the violence.

A communications blackout in Tigray, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered military operations on November 4, has made it hard to get a clear view of hostilities now entering their third week.

“We’re inflicting heavy defeats on all fronts against the forces that came to attack us,” Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael said in a statement, referring to federal forces.

“I call upon all the Tigrayan people to go out en masse to drive out the invaders,” he added.

But army chief Berhanu Jula said his forces were “winning on all fronts” and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was “in a state of desperation.”

“The TPLF’s plan to drag Ethiopia into civil war and tear it apart has failed. It is currently in a desperate mode as it is surrounded,” Berhanu said.

The federal police late Wednesday announced arrest warrants for 76 army officers, some retired, accused of conspiring with the TPLF and “committing treason”.

Tensions ramped up after Tigray held its own elections in September — defying a nationwide ban on polls because of coronavirus — and tried to brand Abiy an illegitimate ruler.

The UN has warned of “a full-blown humanitarian crisis” as aid organisations negotiate with the government to gain full access to Tigray.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday that the Ethiopia Red Cross Society had “transported hundreds of people injured in areas affected by clashes.”

One hospital in the Amhara city of Gondar “has been receiving large numbers of critically injured patients with more than 400 treated so far in the facility,” the ICRC said.

In an interview with German television network DW on Tuesday, Defence Minister Kenea Yadeta said the conflict would end “probably within less than 10 to 15 days.”

But diplomats say it is far from clear that federal forces can secure a swift victory, especially as fighting shifts from lowlands to more mountainous terrain.

The TPLF has considerable military assets and an estimated 250,000 troops, including a paramilitary force and local militia.

Ethiopia’s military is estimated at 150,000 troops, a figure that does not include special forces and militias.

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