Ethiopian army calls on former members to rejoin the army as rebels advance towards the capital

It comes as a new state of emergency allows broad powers of arrest and recruitment for Ethiopians over 18 years of age. The measures contrast with public statements by the government that coverage of the conflict – which has left thousands dead and more than 2 million displaced – is “alarmist.”

The call for volunteers from the Ethiopian Defense Force is aimed at military veterans under 55, officers no older than 60, and commanders under 64, who will take a “stand against the rebel advance,” according to a statement on Facebook. army’s officer. page.

State media echoed the official military appeal on Friday, asking ex-military men in good physical and mental health to report locally to return to duty, according to state-run Fana TV. The return to arms is voluntary and involves a two-week registration period, he said.

The military’s call comes after nine groups opposed to the government, a broad coalition of armed groups and political actors representing different regional and ethnic interests, formed a new alliance on Friday “in response to the dozens of crises that confronts the country “and to fight against the” genocidal regime of Ethiopia, “according to a statement issued by the organizers.

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The bloc, called the United Front of Federalist and Confederalist Forces of Ethiopia, said it no longer recognized the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as legitimate and would seek to establish transitional arrangements, fighting for a democratic future.

The alliance includes fighters loyal to the former ruling Tigray party that once dominated the country, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), known as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), who have been fighting the army of Ethiopia since Abiy ordered an offensive in the northern region of the country last year.

On Friday, the government called the measures a “publicity stunt” and said several of those included had limited support on the ground in the country.

The TPLF has been pushing the front line further south from Tigray for months and has allied with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel group fighting for the rights of the people of Oromia, the most populated region of Ethiopia.

Over the past week, the rebels claim to have seized three cities outside the Tigray region, including Dessie and Kombolcha, two key cities on the way to the capital, raising concern among Ethiopian leaders that the capital could fall.

As rebel fighters advance towards Addis Ababa, government airstrikes on Tigrayan cities, including the regional capital Mekelle, have intensified, and Abiy vowed to bury his government’s enemies “with our blood.”

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Abiy urged citizens to take up arms and fight the Tigrayan forces. “Our people must march … with whatever weapons and resources they have to defend, repel and bury the TPLF terrorist.”

The incendiary post was later removed by Facebook for inciting violence.

On Sunday, Abiy took a different tone, tweeting: “A nation of great potential and immense cultural, historical and national wealth, # Ethiopia will persevere through our current challenges. In unshakable unity, we will continue on our path to greater heights. .. #ResilientlyOnwards “.

OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbii told CNN on Thursday that the joint rebel fighters were still “weeks or months away” from taking the capital.

The question of entering the capital is “purely based on what happens if it comes to negotiations” with the federal government, Odaa said, adding that the group hopes to avoid a direct military conflict in the densely populated city.

Ethiopia is at war with itself.  Here's what you need to know about the conflict.

The rebels have said they intend to overthrow the Abiy government if a peace agreement cannot be reached.

On Friday, the Abiy government said they were committed to the TDF and had captured a key commander.

Despite the state of emergency and the voluntary call, the government has said that daily life in the capital has not been affected.

Ethiopia’s attorney general, Gedion Timothewos, said in a video conference with journalists on Friday that members of the anti-government alliance, including fighters loyal to the TPLF, are “deeply unpopular with the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians.” He added that the state of emergency was declared “as a precaution” based on intelligence information that the TPLF could try to create havoc in the capital or other cities.

When asked by CNN what conditions must be met for the central government to engage with the TPLF in any kind of talks, Timothewos said: “At the very least, the TPLF has to withdraw from the Amhara and Afar regions, where it is brutalizing innocent civilians. “. Abiy spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said “the capital moves with a sense of normalcy” and accused the international media of misrepresenting the situation.

As the conflict deepens and its impact on civilians, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, Ethiopia’s southern neighbor, Kenya, Canada and human rights groups have increased calls for a halt to the immediate and lasting fire.

The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in June, when Tigrayan forces retaken the regional capital, Mekelle. But the TPLF categorically ruled out a truce, and the fighting has spread beyond the borders of Tigray into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told CNN on Wednesday that she was “very concerned” about the recent escalation of violence in the multi-ethnic federation, “which could lead to a real civil war with much bloodshed and much more pain and suffering. “There is also the risk of fragmenting Ethiopia as a state, he said.

A joint investigation into the Tigray conflict by the UN Human Rights Office and Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission published on Wednesday blamed all parties to the conflict for carrying out potential war crimes.

Thousands of people have died in 12 months of fighting, by many estimates, with reports of refugee camps razed, looting, sexual violence, massacres and extrajudicial executions.

CNN’s Eliza Mackintosh and Kara Fox contributed to this report.

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