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World: MAINTENANCE. Conflict in Ethiopia: "The risk is getting bogged down" in Tigray

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For Sonia Le Gouriellec, specialist in the Horn of Africa, one can fear that the Ethiopian army will continue the war in all discretion. But the risks of the war in Tigray are also external and the actions of neighboring countries, including Eritrea and Sudan, are under scrutiny.

It was at the end of November, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory in Tigray. Since then, Addis Ababa has evoked a return to normalcy, but the scarce information filtering from the northern region indicates that the conflict continues. Interview with Sonia Le Gouriellec, lecturer in political science at the Catholic University of Lille, specialist in the Horn of Africa.

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What do we know about the situation since the official end of the fighting?

It was suspected that the leaders of the TPLF, most of them former guerrillas, would not surrender and would take refuge in the mountains to wage a guerrilla war against the national army. This is what seems to be happening. Many of them have not been found and TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has reportedly not been arrested.

The difference between official speech and reality is also disturbing. Unlike Addis Ababa who claims the army killed reluctant Tigrayans to surrender, it all sounds like summary executions.

Is war an admission of failure for Aby Ahmed?

This is a humanitarian, institutional failure, and it does him political disservice. Militarily, it is still difficult to say because the conflict continues. But, in the face of escalation and broken dialogue, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did not have much choice and had to react so as not to give ideas to other regions. Surprisingly, the rest of the population supported him instead. Because part of her has a grudge against the Tigrayans, who have used their 27 years in power to prosper.

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The risk now is getting bogged down. Abiy Ahmed wants to continue to cover up the war, while retaining room for negotiation by providing humanitarian access.

But the stakes are also regional ...

The Prime Minister must do everything to prevent any spark with Sudan. However, much of the Ethiopian army engaged in Tigray is made up of Amharas (the second largest ethnic group in the country) happy to settle scores with the Tigrayans, in power for 27 years.

For 25 years, the Amharas had occupied the fertile lands of the el-Fashaga triangle, a border area claimed by Ethiopia and Sudan. The Sudanese have already taken advantage of the war to reclaim these lands. Abiy Ahmed has to procrastinate, while showing his support for the Amharas militias engaged in Tigray… Still, I think neither country has any interest in escalating.

Eritrea is also involved ...

Recent testimonies speak of Eritrean soldiers sent to fight in Tigray. One wonders even if the Eritrean Army also sent Somali soldiers to train at their homes. The debate is such that the Somali Parliament has called President Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi to account.

What is the balance of power for the rest of the fighting?

Before the war, the TPLF had 250,000 troops and had guerrilla and field experience. But we no longer know the state of the forces involved. It is also unclear whether the Tigrayans were able to steal some of the Federal Army's weapons stored in the area.

Does dialogue seem possible?

No. Given the news, the deaths and the arrests or murders of TPLF officials, it is feared that Abiy Ahmed wants to wipe out what was left of the party.

Is this the only way out of the conflict for now?

So far, Abiy Ahmed has the upper hand. And as long as he manages to keep it, he has no reason to negotiate.

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