Ethiopia’s Escalating Military Offensive Raises Specter of Civil War

Bombardment, troop movements dash hopes of quick end to conflict between Ethiopia’s government and a restive regional government. ‘They have started a war.’

Fighting in Ethiopia between government forces and the rebel-run Tigray People’s Liberation Front has killed thousands and forced tens of thousands to flee to neighboring Sudan. WSJ’s Joe Parkinson explains what's behind the conflict and what's at stake. Photo: Eduardo Soteras/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Ethiopia is widening a military offensive against the restive regional?government of Tigray and arresting thousands across the country, dashing hopes of a quick, negotiated end to the conflict and feeding fears of a full-blown civil war.

More than 500?Ethiopians?have been killed in fighting across the northern Tigray province in recent days, according to state television, while some 11,000 people have fled into Sudan, where authorities are making provisions for 100,000, according to the United Nations. Amid?intensifying bombardment from ground troops and the air force,?thousands more are gathering?onto the eastern bank of Atbara river, waiting to cross the frontier, in what aid agencies say is turning into a humanitarian crisis.

Internet and telephone lines in Tigray have been cut since fighting erupted last week when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused forces loyal to Tigray’s local government?of attacking a military base.?Tensions?have been building toward a showdown since the?region’s governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF,?refused to join Mr. Ahmed’s ruling coalition. The TPLF then defied the government by holding regional elections that had been delayed because of?the coronavirus pandemic.?

Both sides have accused each other of trying to provoke a military confrontation before active clashes began last week, prompting fears that a key ally in the West’s war on terror could plunge into a dangerous internal conflict.

The information blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to determine the progress of the government’s offensive, but?images from state television on Wednesday showed more columns of military trucks and soldiers headed to the front line. Mr. Ahmed said on Thursday that Western parts of Tigray had been “liberated” and government forces had found bodies whose hands were bound before they were shot. The Tigrayan government has called on all residents to “arm themselves and defend the state’s sovereignty,” according to the state broadcaster, Tigray TV.

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