II. Ethiopia: Rebel Offensive
Africa Research Bulletin, March 15, 1989
The recent battles between rebel forces and government troops in northern Ethiopia are common at this time of year (the dry season). What isn’t as common is the fact that the rebel forces appear to be gaining ground against their government counterparts. Recently, rebel claims of success are considered to be ‘credible’ according to diplomatic sources in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Past rebel uprisings resulted in taking over towns for a while, only to withdraw a little later, but in the past few weeks, the Tigre People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seems to be breaking new ground. The TPLF offensive has prompted several government retreats, leaving the rebels to inch their way closer and closer to the city of Gondar. The atmosphere in Gondar is believed to be extremely tense, with reports that the TPLF may only be 12 miles away. Also causing alarm are the reports that the TPLF might bypass Gondar, and instead, attack Bahir Dar, a town on the southern tip of Lake Tana. The rebel forces are claiming many victories over government troops along a strip from Gondar to the ancient Tigrean capital of Axum. Diplomatic sources are backing their claim. Recent developments lead many to believe that various rebel groups are coordinating their attacks. If this is true, the rebels could put extreme pressure on Ethiopia’s 200,000 man army. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) claims that it helped the TPLF in an attack at Inda Salassie. Despite their shared antagonism toward the Addis Ababa government, the TPLF and the EPLF have long been at ends with each other. In 1988 they reached a series of agreements, but this is believed to be their first joint operation. The government has now lost its last base in central and western Tigre and is left only with the provincial capital, Mekelle. In the end, President Mariam may be pushed to the bargaining table, but for now he appears to be sticking with a military solution. As recently as two weeks ago he was believed to be in North Korea shopping for weapons.