Nine anti-government groups – a broad coalition of armed groups and political actors representing different regional and ethnic interests – said they would form a new alliance on Friday “in response to the dozens of crises the country faces” to “and to fight against Abiy, according to a statement issued by the organizers.
The new bloc, which calls itself the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederal Forces, will try to establish a “safe transition in the country” to replace Abiy, organizer Yohanees Abraha told CNN late Thursday. The Yohanees, who are with the Tigray forces, added that the alliance will be formed at a signing event in Washington, DC, on Friday.
The alliance includes fighters loyal to Tigray’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), known as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), which has been fighting the Ethiopian military since Abiy ordered an offensive in the region last year.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told CNN on Wednesday that she was “very concerned” about the recent escalation of violence in the multiethnic federation, “which could lead to a real civil war with a lot of bloodshed and with much more pain and suffering.” It also risks fragmenting Ethiopia as a state, she said.
A joint inquiry into the Tigray conflict by the UN Office of Human Rights and the Ethiopian State Commission on Human Rights, published on Wednesday, blamed all parties to the conflict for committing possible war crimes.
As the war and its impact on civilians deepens, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, Ethiopia’s southern neighbor Kenya and human rights groups have called for an immediate and lasting ceasefire.
The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in June when Tigrayan forces recaptured the regional capital Mekelle. But the TPLF categorically ruled out a ceasefire, and fighting has spread beyond Tigray’s borders to the nearby Amhara and Afar regions.
As Tigrayan fighters have pushed the front line further south, they have allied themselves with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel group fighting for the rights of people from Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous region.
Last month, the Ethiopian military airstrikes intensified on Mekelle and other towns in Tigray. In recent days, Abiy has also promised to bury his government’s enemies “with our blood”.
The rapid advance of the warriors, who on Sunday said they had captured Dessie and Kombolcha, two key cities on the road to Addis Ababa, has raised concerns among Ethiopian leaders that the capital could fall.
However, it is unclear whether the rebels have firepower to occupy the city, and there are conflicting reports on how close they are to the capital.
An OLA spokesman told CNN on Thursday that joint rebel fighters were still “weeks to months” from occupying the capital. They are about 160 kilometers (99 miles) from Addis Ababa, Odaa Tarbii said.
The issue of entering the capital is “purely based on what happens if it comes to negotiations,” with the federal government, Odaa added, saying the group hopes to avoid a direct military conflict in the densely populated city.
Abiy has urged citizens to take up arms and fight the Tigrayan forces. “Our people should march … with every weapon and the resources they have to defend, fight back and bury the terrorist TPLF,” Abiy said in a Facebook post Sunday. The inflamed post was later taken down by Facebook to incite violence.
Addis Ababa’s city administration instructed residents to register their weapons and gather in local neighborhoods to “protect” their surroundings, Reuters reported.
Ethiopian state television on Friday aired footage of crowds meeting in support of Abiy and waving Ethiopia’s tri-colored flag in the capital.