Ethiopia says forced into 'aimless war' as bombings alleged

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Ethiopian Orthodox Christians light candles and pray for peace during a church service at the Medhane Alem Cathedral in the Bole Medhanealem area of the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. Ethiopia's powerful Tigray region asserts that fighter jets have bombed locations around its capital, Mekele, aiming to force the region "into submission," while Ethiopia's army says it has been forced into an "unexpected and aimless war." (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

NAIROBI – Ethiopia’s army said Thursday the country has been forced into an “unexpected and aimless war” with its well-armed Tigray region, while Tigray asserted that fighter jets had bombed areas around its capital — a marked escalation with little sign of the two sides willing to talk to calm the crisis.

Ethiopia’s army deputy chief said military forces are being sent to the fighting in Tigray from other parts of the country. “The army will not go anywhere,” Birhanu Jula told reporters, amid fears that the conflict would spill into other regions of Africa’s second-most populous nation. “The war will end there.”

For his part, the Tigray region’s president, Debretsion Gebremichael, told reporters that “we are in position to defend ourselves from enemies that waged war on the Tigray region. ... We are ready to be martyrs."

Ethiopia’s government has not commented on the bombing allegation, read out Thursday evening on the Tigray regional broadcaster.

The strong words came a day after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the nation the military will carry out further operations this week in response to an alleged deadly attack on a military base by the regional government.

Observers warn that a civil war in Ethiopia involving Tigray could destabilize the already turbulent Horn of Africa. The prime minister, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his sweeping political reforms, now faces his greatest challenge in holding together a country of some 110 million people with multiple ethnic and other grievances.

Communications remained cut off in the northern Tigray region after services disappeared at just around the time Abiy’s office first announced the attack and military action early Wednesday. The lack of contact has challenged efforts to verify the Ethiopian federal government’s account of events.

The Tigray capital, Mekele, appeared calm on Thursday morning but skirmishes took place elsewhere, a source told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about it.