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20 Nov 2020 | 06:03 PM UTC

Ethiopia: Government forces claim capture of Adwa and Axum amid ongoing Tigray region conflict November 20 /update 13

Government forces claim capture of Adwa and Axum on November 20 amid ongoing Tigray region conflict; further operations likely



Ethiopian government forces claimed on Friday, November 20, that they had captured the towns of Adwa and Axum amid a continued conflict between the Ethiopian government and forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) administration. A government statement claimed that federal troops were now advancing on Adigrat as their advance towards the Tigray region capital, Mekelle, continues. The TPLF has not commented on the incident but have claimed that their forces had inflicted casualties in Raya whilst also stating that TPLF fighters had inflicted defeats on federal forces in Mehoni and Zalambessa. The government has not commented on these claims.

The government advance on Mekelle comes following the elapsing of a three-day deadline set by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for the TPLF to surrender. The TPLF also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack against the city of Bahir Dar (Amhara region) during the early hours of Friday, stating that they would continue to carry out attacks against airports which are being used for military operations against TPLF forces. Local authorities stated that no damages had resulted from the rockets.

Further military clashes are likely in and around the Tigray region in the medium term, with a realistic possibility of civilian harm in major flashpoint areas.


Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he had ordered a military offensive in the Tigray Region on November 4, after accusing security forces aligned with the regional Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) administration of attacking Ethiopian National Defense Forces' (ENDF) positions in the state. The operation follows two years of escalating tensions between the TPLF and the federal government in Addis Ababa, which they had previously dominated before the appointment of Abiy as prime minister in 2018, amid claims that the region was being marginalized by his sweeping reforms program. However, tensions reached a high point in September when the TPLF staged their own local elections in the Tigray region in defiance of a decision by the government to suspend national polls due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The federal government subsequently declared the vote illegal and the upper house of Ethiopia's parliament voted to withhold budgetary subsidies to Tigray in early October. Amid the rising tensions, regional authorities had issued a statement on November 3 accusing Addis Ababa of planning a war in the Tigray region.

Although no official casualty figures have been confirmed, fatalities are reported to have rapidly reached the hundreds and have been rising as fighting continues. As well as intense fighting in western areas of the region, particularly around Dansheha and Humera, there have also been allegations of attacks on civilians in some areas. On November 12, rights group Amnesty International claimed that scores of civilians had been killed in the May Cadera area of the Tigray region on November 9, allegedly in a retaliatory attack by retreating TPLF-aligned forces. However, the incident has not been independently confirmed. The TPLF claimed responsibility for rocket attacks which targeted airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar (Amhara region) which occurred on November 13. The TPLF also confirmed that they had fired rockets at the Eritrean capital, Asmara, which targeted Asmara International Airport (ASM) on November 14.


Those in the Tigray region are advised to monitor developments in their area of operations and liaise with appropriate consular authorities. Travelers should avoid the Tigray Region and northern areas of the Amhara region whilst hostilities continue and heed any directives issued by local authorities.

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