Rebels are closing in on Ethiopia’s capital. Its collapse could bring regional chaos

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Captured Ethiopian government soldiers and allied militia members are paraded by Tigray forces last month on their way to a detention center in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.

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A map showing Ethiopia’s Tigray region, highlighting key cities.

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Associated Press


Africa
The U.N. says all sides in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict may have committed war crimes

A report released Wednesday by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission blamed all sides in the year-long conflict for atrocities including extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and attacks on refugees.

While the U.N. did not come to a conclusion on whether genocide was committed, an internal U.S. report concluded that last November, forces allied with Ethiopia’s government «deliberately and efficiently» rendered Western Tigray «ethnically homogeneous through the organized use of force and intimidation.»

While all factions have committed violence against civilians, Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center says the most egregious human rights abuses in Tigray have been carried out by Eritrean soldiers. «They have tried to eliminate the Tigrayans,» he says, «and there’s no telling what the Tigrayans might be interested in doing if they were able to seize the upper hand against the Ethiopian government.»

Amnesty International says Eritrean soldiers slaughtered hundreds of unarmed civilians in the northern Tigrayan city of Axum, «opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity.»

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his wife Zinash Tayachew take part in a memorial service for the victims of the Tigray conflict organized by the city administration, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Wednesday.

Ethiopian Prime Ministry Office Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


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Ethiopian Prime Ministry Office Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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Rebel groups met at a signing ceremony Friday in Washington, D.C., to establish the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces in opposition to the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP


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A Somali soldier patrols the area of a suicide car bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2017. The U.S. has been concerned for years about the military’s ability to battle al-Qaida-linked militants in the country.

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A Somali soldier patrols the area of a suicide car bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2017. The U.S. has been concerned for years about the military’s ability to battle al-Qaida-linked militants in the country.

Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

«You’re talking about millions of refugees flooding a very unstable region. You’re talking about a humanitarian catastrophe,» Hudson says. «The disruption that causes, not just to Ethiopia and neighboring states, but well beyond, is cataclysmic.»

It could make the U.S. fight against terrorism much more difficult

For Washington, the biggest regional concern is Somalia and the potential for that nation to be used as a platform for international terrorism.

Ethiopia has long helped keep a lid on the Islamist al-Shabab militia, and offered crucial backing for the fragile government in Somalia, which seems to be ever on the verge of anarchy.

Ethiopian forces «are a powerful actor in Somalia,» writes Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. «Their military heft significantly surpasses that of the Somali National Army (SNA) or Somali National Police (SPN),» which she says have «little independent capacity even for defensive operations against al-Shabab.»

A failed state in Ethiopia would likely make things much worse there, the CFR’s Gavin says. «Instability in Ethiopia is absolutely a boon to terrorist organizations in East Africa writ large.»

The Atlantic Council’s Hudson agrees that such environments are a breeding ground for extremism.

«I think you create a scenario where this part of the world is exporting instability well beyond it,» he says. «It becomes a magnet for malign actors seeking a home base.»

  • Tigray War
  • tigray
  • eritrea
  • Ethiopia

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