ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia's government has ordered the army into the Tigray region and declared a six-month state of emergency after the prime minister accused the Tigray government of attacking a federal military base.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said military operations began in the northern Tigray area on Wednesday morning, after he accused the region's ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front of orchestrating a raid on a strategic military base.
However, government officials have been tight-lipped about the size or the goal of the operation, and whether there have been any casualties or arrests of TPLF officials. Internet and telephone lines were shut down in Tigray as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Relations between Tigray and Abiy's government have been fraught since he took office in 2018 and sidelined the TPLF, which ruled the government in a coalition for nearly three decades.
Last month, the federal parliament also ordered the country's treasury to halt direct budgetary support to the Tigrayan region after it held a banned regional election.
Redwan Hussein, state minister for foreign affairs, told reporters in Addis Ababa that military units reported an "unprovoked assault" by militia whose aim was to loot heavy artillery.
"Our defense forces in the north reported at midnight last night that they received an unprovoked assault from several corners. ... They reported also that there was an attempt to loot the artillery depots," Hussein said. "The federal defense forces had to react swiftly to maintain law and order and uphold the constitutional order of the country."
In a statement, Abiy accused the TPLF of attempting to provoke a war and vowed to respond immediately.
"The last red line has been crossed with this morning's attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation," Abiy said.
Political analysts said they feared Abiy's move could result in a protracted conflict with the Tigray region.
"The big danger here is that this federal intervention to remove the TPLF leadership is not going to be at all easy," Will Davison, Ethiopia analyst for International Crisis Group, told VOA by messaging app. "That's because Tigray has a relatively strong security apparatus. It seems that regional government has a certain amount of support from the Tigrayan people."
Wednesday's events happened just days after government troops abandoned a command post in western Oromia, Ethiopia's most populous region, enabling attackers to kill at least 54 ethnic Amharas at a local village.
The government pinned the atrocities on the Oromo Liberation Army, an anti-government militia, and the TPLF. The TPLF denied any role in the attack.