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11/06/2020 Ethiopia (International Christian Concern) – This week saw a significant escalation of tensions in Ethiopia, with the federal government declaring war on the Tigray region along the country’s northern border with Ethiopia. Tigray is familiar with conflict, having served as the main site of hostilities in the decades-long conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. That conflict was technically ended in 2018, although independent observers state that the reality on the ground is still far from peaceful.

The Tigray region held elections in September in defiance of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s orders to the contrary. Ahmed has delayed national elections originally scheduled for this year, pushing them off to some time in 2021. In any case, Tigray’s regional elections escalated tensions with the federal government. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the leading party in the Tigray region, has long pushed for separation from the rest of Ethiopia.

The clashes this week seem to have started with the amassing of federal troops on the border of the Tigray region. Soon after, Tigray troops stormed a federal military base in the region, apparently for arms. Ahmed has since declared a state of emergency in the region, shutting off all electricity, internet, and phone service.

Ahmed has faced criticism from human rights groups for his liberal use of such communications blackouts, which make it hard for human rights observers to discern what is happening on the ground. His troops have also been accused of gross human rights violations, including the rape and murder of innocent civilians.

Some are worried that this conflict could spread to the rest of the country and even to East Africa more broadly. Ethiopia has long been plagued with ethnic tensions, and some have wondered whether the neighboring Amhara region will take advantage of this week’s conflict to make its own bid for independence and power. In a separate incident earlier this week, dozens of Amhara civilians were murdered by Oromio separatist forces in southwestern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a majority Christian nation, and many of the groups involved in these ethnic conflicts are majority Christian as well. Over 90% of the Tigray people are Christians, while the Oromio people are largely split between Christianity and Islam.