The Ethiopian government on October 31 appealed for citizens to take arms against rebel groups that claimed to have taken control of key towns in the year-long conflict. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed it had captured the town of Kombolcha on a main road that links landlocked Ethiopia to the port in Djibouti. Additionally, insurgents from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) also claimed they defeated government forces in Kemise, 325 kilometers (200 miles) from capital Addis Ababa.
What have the rebels said?
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda said in a post on Twitter that Tigrayan forces were "firmly in control of Kombolcha" and its airport on October 31. He said the TPLF "will cooperate with the U.N. in managing their aid efforts in Tigray and Amhara including by protecting their warehouses." The U.N. said the government had imposed a blockade on aid supplies to the war-torn regions.
If confirmed, it would be a major advance by the TPLF into central Ethiopia after it took most of Tigray from government forces in June. Kombolcha is located 375 kilometers from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Independent confirmation of the reports was hard to come by during a media blackout in the north of the country.
Odaa Tarbii, OLA spokesperson said the group had taken nearby Kemise 53 km (33 miles) south of Kombolcha. OLA is an outlawed splinter group from the Oromo Liberation Front, which formed an alliance with the TPLF in August.
What was the government response?
The Ethiopian government has so far denied losing Kombolcha to the rebels, insisting that it is still fighting for the key town. Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said that Ethiopian forces were in gun battles with the TPLF in Kombolocha and nearby town Dessie, which are both in the Amhara region.
But Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a Facebook post told Ethiopians to use "any types of weapons... to block the destructive TPLF, to overturn it and bury it." Ethiopian air forces on October 31 bombed a "military training facility (that) served as a recruiting and training centre," an Ethiopian government spokesperson said on Twitter.
The Amhara Regional State Council declared a state of emergency, imposing an 8 p.m. curfew and ordering all government institutions to "direct their budget and all their resources to the survival campaign." It ordered officials to "mobilize and lead... to the front" and urged citizens to provide private vehicles to help out in the campaign.
jc/aw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)