NAIROBI, Kenya — The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region has confirmed firing missiles at neighboring Eritrea’s capital and is threatening more, marking a huge escalation as the deadly fighting in northern Ethiopia between regional forces and the federal government now spills across an international border.
Tigray regional President Debretsion Gebremichael, in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press, would not say how many missiles were fired at the city of Asmara on Saturday but said it was the only city in Eritrea that was targeted.
“As long as troops are here fighting, we will take any legitimate military target and we will fire,” he said, denying reports that Tigray regional forces have entered Eritrea.
At least three rockets appeared to be aimed at the airport in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, hours after the Tigray regional government on Saturday warned it might attack. It has accused Eritrea of attacking it at the invitation of Ethiopia’s government since the conflict erupted on Nov. 4.
The Tigray leader says “we will fight them on all fronts with whatever means we have.” He asserts that around 16 Eritrean divisions are fighting in what he calls a “full-scale war.”
The brewing civil war in Ethiopia has the potential to be a devastating conflict for Africa’s second most populous country and the strategic Horn of Africa, with the potential to fracture a key U.S. security ally and create scores of thousands of refugees.
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The Tigray regional government, which once dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, broke away from it last year, and the federal government says members of the region’s ruling “clique” now must be arrested and their well-stocked arsenal destroyed. Each side regards the other as illegal.
Debretsion would not say how many missiles remain at his troops’ disposal but “we have several. We can use it selectively, anywhere.” When asked about possibly targeting Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, he replied: “I don’t want to tell you, but the missiles are long-range as well.”
Eritrean officials have not responded to requests for comment, and there was no immediate comment on the missile attack from Ethiopia’s federal government.
The Tigray leader said his government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, has no communications channel with Eritrea, even before the conflict. The two sides are at bitter odds after a long and deadly border war that ended after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.
The TPLF is angry at being marginalized by Abiy’s sweeping political reforms, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
It also objects to the postponement of national elections until next year, which extends Abiy’s rule. In September it defiantly held a regional election that the federal government called illegal.