Exclusive: Museveni to Mediate Ethiopia Crisis as TPLF Fire Rockets at Eritrea Airport

Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni is expected to hold talks with the warring parties in Ethiopia’s internal conflict which threatens to destabilize the entire region.

Museveni, who is on a presidential campaign trail in Northern Uganda, is this weekend expected to receive special envoys from Ethiopia where Federal Forces are fighting Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters.

“Special envoys are on their way to Uganda,” said a high ranking official who preferred anonymity to speak freely.

Museveni, who has previously supported Ethiopia’s ambitious infrastructure projects including the construction of the renaissance dam against the chagrin of Egypt, is expected to root for talks between the two conflicting parties.

The Ugandan leader is a highly regarded figure in Ethiopia.

He is among the few leaders who live in the presidential palace when ever in Ethiopia.

Museveni closely worked with TPLF which held power for about 30 years.

“It’s only Museveni whom TPLF listens to in this region,” said a retired diplomat who worked at Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry for two decades.

“And Museveni is respected for his vast experience in the regional security affairs. And he has defended Ethiopia’s national interests for a very long time.”

On Sunday morning, reports indicated that TPLF had fired rockets from northern Ethiopia, hitting Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.

The development could escalate into a regional conflict.

The Ethiopian government’s emergency task force was quoted by international media as saying the rockets had been fired towards the cities of Bahir Dar and Gondar, in Amhara state, late on Friday.

One rocket hit the airport in Gondar and partially damaged it, while a second fired simultaneously landed just outside of the airport in Bahir Dar, an official told Reuters news agency.

For more than a week, Ethiopian government forces have been fighting against a powerful regional government in the country’s north and hundreds are reported to have died.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace laureate, ordered the government offensive after accusing the rival Tigray People’s Liberation Front of launching an attack against Ethiopia’s military last week.

Thousands of people have been displaced, as government planes bomb targets in the Tigray region.

The rhetoric is hardening on both sides of the conflict, raising fears it could escalate into a full-out civil war and destabilize an already fragile region.

Sources told ChimpReports on Sunday that several African leaders asked Museveni to intervene in the Ethiopia crisis with the view of avoiding a spillover in the Horn of Africa.

Museveni also enjoys good relations with Abiy.

In 2018, Abiy was honoured with the Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa medal, Uganda’s highest accolade given to a head of state at a special National Heroes Day by president Museveni.

Last year, Uganda’s cabinet approved the proposed construction of a road from Uganda via Karamoja and Kenya to Ethiopia to boost trade among the two countries.

How the conflict broke out

The conflict has deep roots. But essentially, it’s a power struggle that goes back to 2018, when a popular uprising brought Abiy to power.

He ushered in democratic reforms and negotiated an end to what had become a cold war with neighboring Eritrea.

But he also dismantled Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had run the country for almost 30 years.

The EPRDF, which appointed Abiy, was a coalition of ethnically based political parties. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front dominated the coalition and had amassed a lot of power as an ethnic minority. Tigrayans make up about 6% of Ethiopia’s population.

But things worsened dramatically once COVID-19 hit Ethiopia, the African continent’s second-largest country by population. Abiy was supposed to guide the country through its first truly democratic elections this summer. But citing the pandemic, he postponed them.

The TPLF argued that amounted to an unconstitutional extension of the federal government’s term.

So they defied Abiy’s orders, created their own electoral commission and held their own regional elections. The federal government declared the Tigray elections unconstitutional and both sides began trading accusations of illegitimacy.

Abiy said the TPLF crossed a red line last week, when it allegedly organized a multi-pronged attack on the Ethiopian military’s Northern Command — a “treason that will never be forgotten,” Abiy said.

The TPLF denied the attack. On its television station, after the fighting broke out, the region’s president, Debretsion Gebremichael, called for dialogue.

In a letter to the African Union, he accused the government of a power grab, and accused Abiy of imprisoning his opponents and trying to turn Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism into a system where the prime minister holds all the power.

“Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s one-man dictatorial regime has started to unravel the constitutionally-established state institutions,” he wrote. “He is also endangering the unity of this ancient country.”

How serious is the fighting?

The internet and phone lines have been shut off in the conflict zone, so it has been a hard story to report, according to NPR.

But things look grim. The Ethiopian military has said its forces have killed some 550 fighters.

Redwan Hussein, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s State of Emergency Task Force, told a news conference he doesn’t have exact numbers of casualties because forces are still trading fire. He says the communications blackout, for which he blames the TPLF, has affected even the government. So, he says, when the government takes control of territory, they will collect bodies and count.

On Thursday, Amnesty International said scores — likely hundreds — of apparent civilians were killed in a town at the western edge of the conflict. Amnesty said it hasn’t been able to confirm who was responsible for the killings, that but witnesses told the group that TPLF-affiliated militias attacked with machetes, axes and knives.

The government is also bombing targets across the Tigray region and the United Nations’ refugee agency says that some 7,000 Ethiopians fleeing the fighting have crossed the border into Sudan.

The U.N. says that even before this conflict started, there were already about 96,000 Eritrean refugees and another 100,000 people who had been internally displaced in this part of Ethiopia.

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