Ethiopia resisted international pressure for mediation in a war in the country’s north on Monday as its air force bombed the Tigrayan capital Mekelle, according to diplomatic and military sources.
Hundreds have died, 25,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there have been reports of atrocities since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive on Nov. 4 against Tigray’s local rulers for defying his authority.
But Africa’s youngest leader, who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year, has so far resisted pressure for talks to end a conflict that has spilled into neighbouring Eritrea and threatened to destabilise the wider Horn of Africa.
“We are saying ‘Give us time’. It’s not going to take until eternity … it will be a short-lived operation,” Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government’s Tigray crisis task force, told reporters.
“We have never asked Uganda or any other country to mediate,” Redwan added, after Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni met Ethiopia’s foreign minister and appealed for negotiations.
Ethiopia’s air force dropped bombs in and around Mekelle on Monday, four diplomatic and military sources told Reuters. They had no word on casualties or damage and there was no immediate information from the Ethiopian government.
Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said at least two civilians had been killed and a number wounded. He said in a text message to Reuters that while Mekelle had been bombed, the town of Alamata in southern Tigray had been hit by a drone attack.
Ethiopia’s task force said earlier that federal troops had “liberated” Alamata from the TPLF.
The Tigray flare-up could jeopardise the recent opening up of Ethiopia’s economy, stir ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around Africa’s second most populous nation, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy, 44, who won his Nobel for pursuing peace with Eritrea.
The TPLF, which governs the region of 5 million people, has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and soldiers over the border against it.
Eritrea denies that.