Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has vowed to head to the war front to lead soldiers battling rebels, as the year-long Tigray conflict moves closer to the capital Addis Ababa.
“Starting tomorrow, I will mobilise to the front to lead the defence forces,” Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in a statement posted on Twitter on Monday.
“Those who want to be among the Ethiopian children who will be hailed by history, rise up for your country today. Let’s meet at the front.”
Abiy’s statement came as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (or TPLF) rebel group continued to press towards Addis Ababa, claiming control of the town of Shewa Robit, just 220 kilometres northeast of the capital by road.
In response, the spokesman for the Tigray forces Getachew Reda tweeted that “our forces won’t relent on their inexorable advance towards bringing (Abiy’s) chokehold on our people to an end.”
Ruling party meets to discuss war
Abiy’s comments came after the ruling Prosperity Party’s executive committee met to discuss the war, which has dragged on for a year.
After that meeting, Defence Minister Abraham Belay told state-affiliated media that security forces would embark on a “different action”, without providing details.
“We can’t continue like this, that means there will be change,” Belay said.
“What happened and is happening to our people, the abuses being meted out by this destructive, terrorist, robber group, can’t continue.”
Resurgence of Tigray rebels
Abiy sent troops into Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF in November 2020, saying the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
Though he promised a swift victory, by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of Tigray including its capital Mekelle, prompting the federal army to largely withdraw from the region.
Since then the TPLF has pushed into the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions.
It has also formed an alliance with other insurgent groups including the Oromo Liberation Army, which is active in the Oromia region surrounding Addis Ababa.