Ethiopian PM Defends Military Operations in Tigray Region

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Ethiopia's prime minister on Friday defended military operations against the country's well-armed Tigray region, asserting that months of patiently trying to resolve differences have “failed” because of the regional leadership's “criminal hubris and intransigence.”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a brief statement on Twitter asserted that the military operations “have clear, limited and achievable objectives — to restore the rule of law and the constitutional order.”

The northern Tigray region was increasingly cut off as Ethiopia's civil aviation authority said that starting Friday airports in the regional capital, Mekele, along with the regional cities of Shire, Axum and Humera were “closed for any services." And in Sudan, the acting governor of Kassla province said its border with northern Ethiopia has closed "until further notice” due to the tensions, the Sudan News Agency reported.

Some in the international community are urgently calling for dialogue as one of Africa's most powerful and populous countries nears civil war, warning that it would be catastrophic and destabilizing for the Horn of Africa.

Communications were cut off in the Tigray region around the time that Abiy early Wednesday announced the military's move in response to an alleged deadly attack by Tigray People's Liberation Front forces on a military base.

Both sides issued strong statements Thursday. Ethiopia's army said it was deploying troops from around the country to Tigray, and the Tigray leader alleged that fighter jets had bombed parts of the regional capital. “We are ready to be martyrs,” he said. Casualties have been reported on both sides.

It remains challenging to verify either side's version of events.

The Tigray region borders Eritrea, which fought a years-long border war with Ethiopia before the two countries made peace in 2018 shortly after Abiy took office. The Tigray government and Eritrea don't get along, and the TPLF this week accused Eritrea of teaming up with Ethiopia's federal government to target it.

Eritrea remains one of the world's most closed-off nations, but its ambassador to Japan tweeted overnight that “TPLF's push for militarization, proxy wars & reviving the rules of military engagement in the region must cease now.”