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  25 Nov 2021, 10:55

Ethiopia PM at 'battlefield' front to fight rebels: state media

   ADDIS ABABA, Nov 25, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
on Wednesday reportedly joined the front line where government forces are
battling rebels from the Tigray region, prompting US-led international calls
for a diplomatic solution and immediate ceasefire to the conflict.

   The fighting in the north of Africa's second-most populous country has
killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands into famine-like
conditions.

   Foreign governments have told their citizens to leave amid the escalating
war, and fears the Tigrayan rebels could march on the capital Addis Ababa.

   Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, "is now leading the counter-
offensive" and "has been giving leadership from the battlefield as of
yesterday," Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported.

   It was not clear where Abiy, a former radio operator in the military who
rose to lieutenant-colonel, had deployed.

   State media did not broadcast images of him in the field, and officials
have not responded to requests for details about his whereabouts.

   Addressing reports of Abiy at the front, the US State Department late
Wednesday warned "there is no military solution" to Ethiopia's civil war.

   "We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory and bellicose rhetoric,
to use restraint, respect human rights, allow humanitarian access, and
protect civilians," a State Department spokesperson said.

   A day earlier Washington's special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey
Feltman, said that "nascent progress" risked being "outpaced by the military
escalation by the two sides".

   Other foreign envoys also have been frantically pushing for a ceasefire,
though there have been few signs a breakthrough is coming.

   On Wednesday UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a swift end to the
fighting, comments made while on a visit to Colombia to mark the fifth
anniversary of a peace deal between the government and former FARC rebels.

   "The peace process in Colombia inspires me to make an urgent appeal today
to the protagonists of the conflict in Ethiopia for an unconditional and
immediate ceasefire to save the country," he said.

   The war erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to
topple its ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

   He said the move was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and
promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had retaken most of
Tigray, including its capital Mekele.

   Since then, the TPLF has pushed into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions,
and this week it claimed to have seized a town just 220 kilometres (135
miles) from Addis Ababa.

   - New recruits -

   Abiy's announcement Monday that he would deploy to the front "has inspired
many to... join the survival campaign", Fana said Wednesday.

   Hundreds of new recruits took part in a ceremony held in their honour
Wednesday in the capital's Kolfe district.

   As officials corralled sheep and oxen into trucks bound for the north, the
recruits broke into patriotic songs and chants.

   "When a leader leaves his chair... and his throne it is to rescue his
country," Tesfaye Sherefa, a 42-year-old driver, told AFP.

   Feyisa Lilesa, a distance runner and Olympic silver medallist, told state
media the rebels' advance presented "a great opportunity" to defend the
nation.

   The marathon runner gained political prominence by raising and crossing
his arms as he finished the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro -
- a gesture of solidarity with fellow ethnic Oromos killed while protesting
abuses committed during nearly three decades of TPLF rule.

   - Exodus -

   Even as it rallies citizens to fight, Abiy's government insists the TPLF's
gains have been overstated, criticising what it describes as sensationalist
media coverage and alarmist security advisories from Western embassies.

   The war has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with accounts of massacres
and mass rapes, and on Wednesday the United Nations expressed worry over
reports of large-scale displacement from western Tigray, where the US has
previously warned of ethnic cleansing.

   "Tigray zonal authorities report of 8,000 new arrivals, potentially up to
20,000," the UN refugee agency UNHCR said, adding that it could not
immediately corroborate the figures.

   

   Several witnesses have told AFP of mass roundups of Tigrayan civilians in
western Tigray in recent days.

   Amhara forces occupied the fiercely contested area a year ago, with Amhara
officials accusing the TPLF of illegally annexing it three decades earlier.

   As Amhara civilians have poured in over the past year, Tigrayans have fled
in the tens of thousands -- either west into Sudan or east, deeper into
Tigray.

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