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Ethiopia seeks to control Tigray airports, infrastructure

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopian authorities said Monday they are aiming to get immediate control of airports and other infrastructure in the embattled Tigray region, a statement of war intentions as diplomats push for peace talks between the warring parties.

The statement by Ethiopia’s Government Communications Service came amid reports of intensified shelling by Ethiopian troops and allied forces fighting in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. In recent days heavy clashes have been reported near the northwestern town of Shire, where an attack Friday killed a International Rescue Committee worker who was distributing aid.

“It is … imperative that the government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities and installations in the (Tigray) region,” the statement said. “This will enable the government to expedite humanitarian aid to the people in need.”

Hostile foreign powers were violating the country’s airspace before the latest round of war ignited on Aug. 24, the statement said, without giving details of the outside powers.

Ethiopia is under pressure to begin the peace talks that were set to kick off this month in South Africa. They were delayed because of logistical issues.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union Commission, on Sunday urged an “immediate, unconditional ceasefire” in northern Ethiopia, echoing a call by the U.N. secretary-general.

The AU’s call was quickly praised by Tigray officials.

The Ethiopian government statement Monday warned civilians and humanitarian workers to “distance themselves from TPLF’s military assets,” referring to the political party of Tigray’s fugitive leaders.

Fighting resumed between Tigray forces and federal troops in August, bringing an end to a cease-fire in place since March that had allowed much-needed aid to enter the region. Eritrean troops are fighting on the side of Ethiopia’s federal military.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power called on Eritrean forces to withdraw from Tigray and urged the parties to observe a cease-fire, warning in a tweet that up to 1 million people are “teetering on the edge of famine” in the region.

“The conflict has displaced millions of people, and camps for displaced Ethiopians have also fallen under attack,” said Power, who warned of further bloodshed if Eritrean and Ethiopian federal forces take charge of the camps.

European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said he was “horrified by the reports of continuous violence, including the targeting of civilians in Shire.”

Aid distributions are being hampered by a lack of fuel and a communications blackout in Tigray. The AP reported Saturday that a U.N. team found there were “10 starvation-related deaths” at seven camps for internally displaced people in northwestern Tigray, according to an internal document prepared by a humanitarian agency.

Millions of people in northern Ethiopia, including the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, have been uprooted from their homes and tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed since the conflict broke out in November 2020.

Associated Press, The Associated Press