(Bloomberg) — An internal conflict in Ethiopia is being used to settle a long-standing territorial dispute between two of its northern states.
Forces from the Amhara region took control of several areas in Tigray after backing federal troops that staged an incursion into its neighbor’s territory, said Gizachew Muluneh, a spokesman for the Amhara government. Fighting has continued in Tigray since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the army to retaliate after forces loyal to Tigray’s ruling party attacked a military camp in November.
The land “was taken by force and now has been returned by force,” Gizachew said. “Although it wasn’t our original objective, it happened by default.”
The Amhara, one of Ethiopia’s two biggest ethnic groups, claim the disputed territory falls under their jurisdiction. They were forced to relinquish authority in 1991 after a Tigray Peoples Liberation Front-led alliance seized control of the country and reconfigured it into nine semi-autonomous states. A 10th state was established last year.
Abiy’s administration has approved the reincorporation of the disputed territories, including the Welkait, Tegede, Humera, Telemte and Raya districts, into Amhara, according to Gizachew. A ruling is now awaited from the House of Federation to legalize the process, and in the interim Amhara will administer the areas, he said.
Calls to the Speaker of the House of Federation, Adan Farah, went unanswered. Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government task force, and Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Abraha Desta, a member of the Tigray interim administration appointed by Abiy after the incursion, objected to a redetermination of the borders. In a Facebook post, he called on the government “to stop the atrocities committed by the Amhara special forces who took advantage of the security gap” to “invade and forcibly occupy our land.”
Tens of thousands of people have left the disputed territory. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress last week that they were forcibly displaced in a campaign that amounted to ethnic cleansing — an allegation Ethiopia’s government dismissed as “spurious.”
Aid agencies working in the region confirmed that bus-loads of Tigrayans were forcefully removed from parts of western Tigray, many had been killed, and homes, businesses and farms were looted and destroyed.