Suspicion and sacrifice as the fighting in Ethiopia spreads

ADDIS ABABA – After dark, in a residential area of ​​the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, dozens of civilian volunteers patrolled their streets one night last week, stopping and searching cars and checking documents, reports the BBC.

“Our neighborhood committee is about 180 people. We apprehended a lot of people. And we found a lot of suspicious material, including guns and explosive devices,” said an older man who appeared to be coordinating the search.

The volunteers are on the lookout for Tigrayan rebels and their supporters, under new state of emergency regulations introduced by the Ethiopian government in response to a Tigrayan military offensive.

Critics say thousands of people have been unfairly detained, but the crackdown appears to have broad support in the capital.

“Hurry, he’s trying to escape,” said another man, suddenly speaking into his cell phone.

A few blocks away, a new group of mostly elderly volunteers had gathered to practice, more or less marching and listening to instructions.

The general mood in the capital seems to be calm.

Although Britain and other countries have warned that the security situation is “deteriorating”, as Tigrayans and other rebel groups report advancing towards Addis, the Russian embassy has sent a strong message. different on social media.

He said that “the establishment of the state of emergency has not brought significant changes to the daily rhythm of life in the Ethiopian capital”.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently announced that he is heading to the front lines to lead his troops.

Video footage, provided by the government, showed him in uniform surrounded by soldiers, apparently in the arid Afar region northeast of the capital.

“We have now succeeded in completely cleaning up the area,” Prime Minister Abiy said in the footage.

“The morale of the defense forces is really good. We will continue until Ethiopia’s freedom is secured,” he continued.

The prime minister said his troops were seizing several towns from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF).

But these claims are difficult to verify with limited access and communications in conflict zones and the introduction of new rules prohibiting the publication of any military movement or “battlefield results” not sanctioned by the government.

TPLF officials – who recently shared drone footage of thousands of Ethiopian prisoners of war – insist they continue to advance on multiple fronts, with the focus now on a key town, Debre Birhan, widely regarded as Ethiopia’s last major defensive position away from home. the capital.

But some analysts warn that Tigray’s forces could be overloaded and vulnerable to a counterattack and possible offensive from neighboring Eritrea.

Whichever side wins, it is clear that the conflict is spreading, and with it, the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) now estimates that 9.4 million people are in need of assistance.

“As an unstable conflict spreads across northern Ethiopia, we are seeing more and more people fall into dire straits,” said Claire Neville, a WFP official in Addis.

She blamed a “multitude of factors” currently limiting humanitarian access, including offensives by Tigrayan rebels, insecurity and persistent bureaucratic delays by the Ethiopian authorities.

But WFP recently managed to reach thousands of people in two Amhara towns seized by Tigrayan forces.

In Addis, the ruling Prosperity Party continues to hold public ceremonies to thank those who volunteer to fight.

“We are at war with the local traitors and their foreign supporters,” said Etisa Deme, member of the city council.

“I have been called to go and fight for the honor of my country. You can cry if your family is killed, but where do you go if you lose your country? That is why I am ready to sacrifice my life. I’m not afraid that we “I haven’t had any training yet,” said twenty-two-year-old Babush Sitotaw.

A gray-haired woman, Dinkinesh Nigatu, also introduced herself and was introduced to the crowd.

“I love my country. I wanted to go to the front, but my son and my husband told me to stay home and they would go and fight for me,” she said.

“So I trained as a volunteer and I’m patrolling the streets now while my sons and my husband fight on the front lines. Every time I see people on the streets I tell them to go fight. We must not wait (the enemy) to come here to kill us all, “she told the BBC.

“He is an icon. A beacon for all of you,” said Ayda Awol, an official with the ruling Prosperity Party, with her arm around Dinkinesh Nigatu’s shoulder.

“We expect many young people to follow this example. Ethiopia’s spirit is now stronger than ever. More than seven thousand people (from the Arada district in the capital) have volunteered to help their country, “continued Ayda Awol.

The Ethiopian government has complained about a deliberate campaign by Western governments and media organizations to distort the nature of the conflict.

Many Ethiopians seem to agree, turning to social media to criticize “colonial” attempts to undermine their nation and exaggerate the successes of the TPLF.

“We [are] attacked on two fronts. A neocolonial campaign of disinformation and disinformation led by the mainstream Western media, including the BBC, and a genocidal war declared by the TPLF, ”said Ethiopian political scientist Achamyeleh Ewunetu, who described himself as a harsh critic of the government Ethiopian but a defender of the defense of his country. sovereignty.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly declined BBC interview requests.

But the Ethiopian government has been widely criticized for cracking down on local and foreign media, for using increasingly violent rhetoric, and for restricting access and communications.

Prime Minister Abiy, who received praise before the conflict for releasing political prisoners and journalists, was recently accused of reimposing a climate of intimidation on sections of the media.

Meanwhile, the BBC says it remains committed to independent, accurate and unbiased reporting from the region and around the world.

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