Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed vows to lead army ‘from the battlefront’

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The Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister says he will lead troops battling the Tigrayan rebels from Tuesday.

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Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said he will lead his country’s military “from the battlefield” starting Tuesday, a dramatic new move as the year-long conflict draws closer to the capital, Addis Ababa. Is.

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Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds of thousands more famine since November last year after the prime minister ordered a military strike against the Tigre People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the central government for decades before Abiy. Is. Took over in 2018.

Abiy said the move was in response to attacks on federal military bases, but the TPLF said it was targeted unfairly.

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In the span of a year, Abiy’s government has gone from describing the Tigre conflict as a “law enforcement campaign” to an “existential war”. With Ethiopian forces withdrawing from Tigre in June and reports of its weakening in recent months, Abiy’s government declared a six-month state of emergency and called on all able-bodied civilians to join the fight.

“From tomorrow, I will join the front lines to lead the defense forces,” Abi said in a statement posted on Twitter late Monday.

“Those who want to be among the children of Ethiopia who will be admired in history, stand up for their country today. See you on the battlefield.”

The 45-year-old prime minister’s statement, a former soldier, did not say where he would go on Tuesday.

This came as the Tigreyan army continued to press toward Addis Ababa, claiming control of the city of Shewa Robit, just 220 km (136 mi) northeast of the capital by road. Much of northern Ethiopia is subject to communications blackouts and access is restricted for journalists, making battlefield claims difficult to verify.

Abiy’s remarks also came after a meeting of the governing Prosperity Party’s executive committee to discuss the war.

Defense Minister Abraham Bayley told state media after the meeting that security forces would launch a “separate action” without giving details.

“Change will happen,” Bayley said. “What has happened and is happening to our people, the abuses being perpetrated by this destructive, terrorist, plundering group cannot continue.”

The United States and others have warned that a war in Africa’s second most populous country could disrupt and destabilize the rest of the region.

TPLF spokesman Getachev Reda tweeted, “Abi’s imitation of the wartime emperors of Ethiopia has taken on a very pronounced schizophrenic overtone. He has “in his army” on the battlefield in the honorific tradition of his ‘glorious predecessors’. Vowed to join. I would have dismissed it, it’s just another sick joke any day.”

Former US diplomat William Lawrence noted that Abiy used a lot of war imagery when accepting his Nobel Prize, but it was to highlight the horrors of war.

Lawrence said, “And here we are, almost full circle with the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who uses the most spoken language to try and bet ahead of protecting not only Ethiopia, but life and death.” are doing.” “He says he’s basically willing to die for the cause.”

Professor Kjetil Tronvol, of the University of Oslo, said Abiy’s call was intended to mobilize other Ethiopians to join the fight against Tigrian forces, but it was also a “sign of desperation”.

“It is a gamble in the sense that will people follow him? Because that’s the intention, I think, that he was trying to rally the Ethiopian base, the nationalist base to join him on the battlefield to fight the advancing Tigrayan forces,” he told Al Jazeera. “The question is, will thousands or hundreds of thousands of people attend that? We just don’t know.”

Tigreyan forces say they are pressuring Ethiopia’s government to lift a month-long blockade of six million people in the Tigre region, but want to oust Abiy.

The prime minister said in his statement that Western countries were trying to defeat Ethiopia, echoing references to his government “interfering” by the international community.

Envoys from the African Union and the US have continued diplomatic efforts in the pursuit of a ceasefire and negotiated a political solution without conditions.

Abbas Haji Gnamo, an expert on Ethiopian politics at the University of Toronto, said many were still hoping for a political solution.

“Diplomats have to find a political way out,” he told Al Jazeera. “Abi cannot win this war. Ethiopia’s military is relatively weak. They’re losing the city and their going to the battlefield doesn’t change anything – dialogue is the only way out of it. ,

Shortly after Abiy’s announcement, a senior US State Department official told reporters that the US still believed “a small window of opportunity exists” in mediation efforts.

Abiy’s announcement shocked Awol Alo, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Kiel in the United Kingdom, the man who nominated him for the Nobel. “The declaration is filled with the languages ​​of martyrdom and sacrifice,” he said in a tweet. “This is so extraordinary and unprecedented, it shows how dire the situation is.”

Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighboring Eritrea, the border of which he fought while stationed in the Tigre region.

The terms of that peace deal were never made public.

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