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War Between Ethiopia And A Rival Regional Government Escalates

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The war between Ethiopia and a rival regional government is now spilling across an international border. Over the weekend, the regional government shot rockets into the capital of neighboring Eritrea. It marks a significant escalation in the fighting. NPR's Eyder Peralta is following this story from Kenya's capital, Nairobi. Eyder, just start off by explaining who the players are in this conflict and how has it gotten so serious.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Yeah. So the central conflict here is between the new government of Ethiopian and the old government of Ethiopia. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, and he sidelined the TPLF, which had ruled Ethiopia for nearly 30 years, and they fought over elections and legitimacy. But all of this came to a head when the TPLF attacked military bases about two weeks ago, and that's when this war started.

This weekend, I spoke to Daniel Berhane. He's a political analyst in Mekelle, which is the capital city of this rival regional government. And I reminded him that, not too long ago, he and I sat at a cafe there and the overwhelming sentiment was that people in that region were sick and tired of war. I asked him what had happened. Let's listen.

DANIEL BERHANE: Do you think Tigray will continue to exist with our existing proud history and heritage? Do you think they'll let us do that? No, they won't.

PERALTA: So he says the people of Tigray had no choice. If Abiy Ahmed wins this war, he says, the state of Tigray will be no more. And the government, for its part, believes that if the TPLF is allowed to remain, a united Ethiopia cannot exist. So both sides are framing this as an existential struggle, so it's just hard to imagine a scenario where this conflict ends quickly.

R MARTIN: So explain how what happened over the weekend falls into that larger existential crisis for these countries.

PERALTA: Yeah. So the TPLF fired what it called missiles into Asmara, which is the capital of Eritrea. And they claim that the Ethiopian government is colluding with Eritrea to attack them. We don't know if that's true. But the attack makes this conflict international, and it's almost sure to draw Eritrea.

And one of the reasons that that's serious is that the TPLF and Eritrea have been at war before in the late '90s. When the TPLF was in power in Ethiopia, a border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea - it became one of the deadliest on the continent. And here we are. We seem to be in the same place again.

R MARTIN: So speaking of which, I mean, what is the humanitarian toll of all this right now, Eyder?

PERALTA: So Sudan - neighboring Sudan says that about 24,000 Ethiopians have crossed into their country seeking refuge. And there's another angle to this - ethnic-based attacks by militias, those have increased. Amnesty International reports that possibly hundreds of civilians were killed in the village near the border with Sudan. And the militias reportedly targeted people because of their ethnicity and killed them with machetes and axes. And all this just tells you that Ethiopia is in a very precarious position and that civilians are likely to bear the brunt of this conflict.

R MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Nairobi. Thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.