Nine anti-government factions will form an alliance on Friday to push for a political transition in Ethiopia, two of the groups said, piling more pressure on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as rebel forces advance towards the capital.
Several of the groups have armed fighters although it was not clear whether they all do.
Two of them, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and the Agaw Democratic Movement (ADM), confirmed to Reuters that an announcement on the alliance was genuine.
Called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces, the alliance includes the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting Abiy’s government for a year in a war that has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million more from their homes.
The front is being formed “to reverse the harmful effects of the Abiy Ahmed rule on the peoples of Ethiopia and beyond,” the groups said, and “in recognition of the great need to collaborate and join forces towards a safe transition.”
Abiy’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, asked for reaction to the development, referred Reuters to a comment she posted on Twitter in which she defended Abiy’s rule since he took office in 2018. His party was re-elected in June.
“The opening up of the political space three years ago provided ample opportunity for contenders to settle their differences at the ballot box in June 2021,” Seyoum said in the post.
She did not refer directly to the new alliance.
Spokespeople for the government and the foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the alliance.
The TPLF spokesperson, Getachew Reda, did not respond to comment requests on Friday.
African and Western nations are calling for an immediate ceasefire in Ethiopia after Tigrayan forces from the north said they made advances towards the capital this week.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday: “The conflict in Ethiopia must come to an end. Peace negotiations should begin immediately without preconditions in pursuit of a ceasefire.”
The spokespeople for the Ethiopian government and the TPLF
did not respond to requests for comment on Blinken’s ceasefire call.
Prior to the new alliance announcement, the OLA had already joined with the Tigrayan forces. The two groups confirmed to Reuters they are in the town of Kemise in Amhara state, 325 km (200 miles) from the capital.
On Thursday the government accused the Tigrayan forces of exaggerating their territorial gains.
The TPLF said on Tuesday its forces were closing in on the town of Mille, which would enable them to cut off the highway linking neighbouring Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital.
On Friday morning, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu rejected the claim. “The battlefield is 80 kilometres from Mille.”
He also said there was fighting at least 100 km (60 miles) north of Shewa Robit, a town in the Amhara region that is located on the A2 highway running to Addis Ababa. That would put fighting about 57 km (36 miles) south of Kombulcha, one of two towns that the TPLF said it captured this weekend.
NEW SANCTIONS BILL
U.S. senators on Thursday introduced a new sanctions bill on parties to the conflict in Ethiopia.
“This is a regional crisis that requires a coordinated and intensive international response,” said Senator Jim Risch, a Republican from Idaho.
On Thursday, U.S envoy Feltman met African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, as well as the Ethiopian defence minister, finance minister and deputy prime minister, according to the State Department.
It was not clear whether he would meet Abiy during his two-day visit. His spokesperson said she had no information on that.
The conflict started a year ago when forces loyal to the TPLF, including some soldiers, seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Abiy sent more troops to the northern region.
The TPLF had dominated national politics for nearly three decades but lost much influence when Abiy took office in 2018.
The TPLF accused him of centralising power at the expense of regional states. Abiy denies this.