Forces from Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray conceded on Tuesday that they had lost control of the populous town of Shire to the Ethiopian military and their allies, urging Tigrayans to fight back.
Tigray forces have been battling Ethiopia’s army and its allies, including troops from neighbouring Eritrea, on and off since late 2020, a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine.
“If we don’t defend ourselves against our enemies, they will continue the atrocities,” the Tigray authorities said in a statement. “Every Tigrayan should defend themselves,” it added.
Shire, located 140 km (90 miles) northwest of Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle, is one of the biggest towns in Tigray and hosts tens of thousands of people who were displaced from other areas by the conflict.
Spokespersons for the Ethiopian government and army and for the Eritrean government did not respond to requests for comment on events in Shire.
The Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry said in a Tweet on Monday that the government was ready to ensure humanitarian access and the safety of humanitarian workers in “areas liberated and controlled” by the national army.
The conflict is rooted in long-running rivalries between regional power blocs over control of Ethiopia as a whole and in deep disagreements over how power should be balanced between federal and regional authorities.
The African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and several senior US. government officials have all called in recent days for an immediate ceasefire and for peace talks sponsored by the African Union to get started.
The Europeans and Americans have called for a full withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopian territory.
A Tweet on Tuesday by Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Meskel appeared to hit back at critics and accuse them of being biased in favour of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the dominant political party in the region and a sworn enemy of Eritrea.
“Sadly, familiar pattern is again in full display: provide tacit support to TPLF when it unleashes reckless offensives by rejecting all peaceful avenues & raise specter of humanitarian catastrophe when on retreat,” he wrote.
He did not say who he was accusing of tacitly supporting the TPLF.
Eritrea is an authoritarian, highly militarised state that does not brook criticism or allow independent media scrutiny.