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Pope Francis “following with concerns” Conflict in Ethiopia, Calls for Ceasefire in Libya

Map of Ethiopia showing Tigray region.

Pope Francis says he is “following with concerns” the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia pitting the federal government against the local authorities of the country’s northernmost Tigray region.

Speaking at the end of Angelus Sunday, November 8 at Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father also called for respect of a permanent ceasefire in the North African nation of Libya.

“I am following with concern the news arriving from Ethiopia,” Pope Francis said, and added, “While I urge that the temptation of an armed conflict be rejected, I invite everyone to prayer and to fraternal respect, to dialogue and to a peaceful end to the disagreements.”

The landlocked Horn of Africa nation has been experiencing clashes since November 4 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed-led government ordered a military offensive against the authorities in the Tigray region, which borders Eritrea.

The military offensive was in response to the alleged takeover of Ethiopia’s largest military base located in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle by forces loyal to the region’s government.

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While getting an accurate picture of the situation on the ground remains a challenge considering that Internet and phone connections to the area were cut off, dozens of casualties and injuries were reported on November 4, the first day of the armed confrontation.

The military offensive is the culmination of escalating tensions between the authorities of the two regions that started in September when the ruling party in Tigray, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) organized elections in the region, against the advice of the federal government.

Ethiopia’s parliament postponed the elections scheduled for August due to COVID-19, but the Tigray government defied the order, terming the authority of Prime Minister Abiy as illegal and unconstitutional.

Ethiopia’s federal government termed the poll as illegal and declared a state of emergency in the region for six months. On November 7, the parliament voted to dissolve Tigray’s government.

The confrontation between the two governments escalated in October when Ethiopia’s legislators withheld budgetary funding for the Tigrayan government as a punishment for defying orders from the Addis Ababa-based federal government, a move the regional leaders said was “tantamount to an act of war."

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Peace and security experts observe that though the immediate triggers of the ongoing crisis were the alleged military base attack and the September election in Tigray, there has always been a possibility of a conflict due to longstanding differences between the Prime Minister Abiy-led federal government and Tigray’s TPLF.

Tigray leaders have dominated the federal government since 1991 when they toppled the government of Mengistu Haile Merriam, but their influence reduced when Mr. Abiy clinched power in 2018 amid anti-government protests.

Since then, the members of the Tigray ethnic group have complained of being marginalized and unfairly targeted for human rights abuses and corruption.  They are also angered by Abiy’s description of their almost three-decade rule as “27 years of darkness.”

To the Ethiopian Prime Minister who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize , the Tigrayan leaders are nothing more than “inveterate troublemakers still smarting from their loss of influence.”

As Africa’s second most populous nation and one deemed critical to Horn of Africa’s stability, security experts have, by way of caution, argued that continued hostilities between the two regions could easily escalate into a civil war that could rope in neighboring countries, including Eritrea and Sudan.

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Pope Francis is the latest leader to call on the two warring sides to end the crisis. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has called on “all relevant actors to de-escalate the volatile situation...and to engage in an inclusive dialogue aimed at resolving grievances without resorting to violence.”

In his November 8 address, the Holy Father also acknowledged the meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) that started in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis on November 9 with an aim of finding a lasting solution to the crisis that has bedeviled the North African country since the 2011 “Arab Spring.”

“Given the importance of the event, I very much hope that at this delicate time a solution to the long suffering of the Libyan people will be found,” Pope Francis said referencing the LPDF meeting.

Launched on October 25 by the United Nations (UN), the Forum brings together representatives of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libyan National Army (LNA) for talks.

The talks aim at finding a “consensus on a unified executive authority and on the arrangements for national elections to be held in the shortest possible period in order to restore Libya’s sovereignty and give democratic legitimacy to Libyan institutions.”

The formation of LPDF came two days after the two warring factions in Libya agreed to sign a permanent ceasefire sponsored by the United Nations which the Holy Father expressed hopes that it will “be respected and implemented.”

“Let us pray for the delegates of the Forum, for peace and stability in Libya,” Pope Francis added November 8.