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Ethiopia urges civilians to join armed forces in war against rebels

People follow a soldier of the Tigray Defense Force (TDF) militia on a street in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on June 29, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Ethiopia’s government has called on “all capable Ethiopians” to join the fight against rebels in Tigray and stop them from pushing beyond the embattled region.

The office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced in a statement on Tuesday that “now is the right time for all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the Defense Forces, Special Forces, and militias to show your patriotism.”

Fighting erupted in Tigray in November last year when the government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking military bases across the north. Three weeks later, the government declared victory when it gained control of the regional capital, Mekelle. The TPLF forces, however, fought back and retook Mekelle and most of Tigray at the end of June after the government declared a now faltering ceasefire.

The statement by Abiy did not mention the ceasefire.

It called on all Ethiopians to be “the eyes and ears of the country in order to track down and expose spies and agents” of the Tigrayan rebels.

The development came as the Tigrayan forces pushed into the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions, capturing the United Nations (UN) World Heritage site of Lalibela last week, which displaced more than 250,000 people, according to the UN aid chief.

The Tigrayan rebels had reportedly taken control of three districts in Afar last week. The region is of strategic importance because the main road and railway linking Addis Ababa, landlocked Ethiopia’s capital, to the sea port of Djibouti runs through it.

The sustained fighting in Afar highlights the potential for Ethiopia’s eight-month-old conflict to expand well beyond Tigray, where the fighting has pushed 400,000 people into famine. This week, the UN said it was “extremely alarmed” by reports that more than 200 people had been killed in attacks on displaced people in Afar.

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