The Ethiopian government on Tuesday declared a state of emergency and called on its citizens to pick up arms and prepare to defend Addis Ababa, the capital, as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters continued to make significant gains.
TPLF combatants, who have been fighting Ethiopian defense forces for about a year, captured two key towns in just days and began making advances toward Addis Ababa.
Reports quoted diplomats as saying that there were signs several of Ethiopian Army units had collapsed or retreated.
The Justice Minister Cedion Timothewos told a news conference that under the state of emergency which will last six months, any citizen over 18 could be called to fight.
It also gives Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, sweeping powers to arrest and detains opponents or critics, impose curfews and restrict news media.
“Those who own weapons will be obliged to hand them over to the government,” Timothewos said.
Reports said house-to-house searches were being conducted in search of Tigrayan sympathizers in Addis-Ababa after the city administrator called on citizens to use their weapons to defend their neighborhood.
In Washington D.C., U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, called on all parties to lay down their weapons and negotiate.
Feltman also urged the TPLF not to try to take the capital.
Feltman also warned on Tuesday that the deliberate starvation of people in Tigray by the Ethiopian government would constitute war crimes, according to the United Nations.
Delivering remarks at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, one year since the conflict in northern Ethiopia began, Ambassador Feltman said the humanitarian conditions in Tigray are “unacceptable.”
Feltman asserted that using food as a weapon of war or imposing restrictions that deliberately prevent food and humanitarian assistance from reaching the people as the Ethiopian government is currently doing would constitute war crimes, according to the United Nations.
He said only 13 percent of humanitarian assistance is reaching the people in Tigray because of actions being taken by the administration of Abiy Ahmed Ali, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
He said it was unconscionable that the assistance is available but is being prevented from reaching the people in northern in Ethiopia because of government restrictions.
The U.S. envoy called on all parties to sit down, drop down their weapons, and negotiate, and citing studies that state that an average civil war now lasts 20 years on average.
A civil war in Ethiopia will be “disastrous” for Ethiopia and and Ethiopians, Feltman added.
He condemned the expansions of operations by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) into Amhara and Afar, saying that they were pushing many people to flee the region, and also exacerbating a humanitarian crisis there.
Feltman rejected insinuations that the Biden administration was supporting the TPLF, saying the aim of the U.S. government is to bring about peace and stability in Ethiopia.
He said the U.S. government has repeatedly condemned actions by the TPLF but acknowledged that with the actions being taken by the Ethiopian government are also leading to reactions from TPLF.
Feltman also called on the Eritrean government to withdraw troops from Ethiopia for a return of peace and stability in Ethiopia.