Soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) have been ordered to march into Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, in what is seen by the federal government as the final phase of fighting off the militant posturing of the regional government.
Ethiopian soldiers are expected to do battle with forces of the regional government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in the capital city. An earlier statement by the country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, promised civilian casualties will be avoided while asking Tigrayans to choose a side between Addis Ababa and the TPLF.
On Thursday, Ahmed, a Nobel laureate for peace, tweeted a statement announcing that the “72-hour period granted to the criminal TPLF clique to surrender peacefully is now over and our law enforcement campaign has reached its final stage”.
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But the statement also revealed that “thousands of Tigray Special Forces and militia members” have already surrendered within the 72-hour ultimatum.
Ethiopia’s communications since the altercation began on November 4 appear to recognize that the country is fighting both a war of guns and identity. The TPLF has been Tigray’s regional government since the last decade of the 20th century and it is seen as the political organization encapsulating Tigrayan identity.
The region of Tigray, a vast hilly and arid area, is named after the Tigrinya-speaking Tigray people, Ethiopia’s fourth-largest ethnic group who are less than 10% of the country’s people.
In spite of the relatively small number of Tigrayans in the country, the TPLF has shaped post-Cold War Ethiopia more than any other political organization in the country.
In 1991, the militant group-cum political party led a coalition of militias and movements to overthrow the communist People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. After that, the group was part of governing coalitions, and at a point produced a prime minister in the late Meles Zenawi.
Due to disagreements with Ahmed‘s Progress Party in 2019, the TPLF left his governing coalition.