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Ethiopian military seizes airport in Tigray region amid escalating conflict

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: The Ethiopian military has seized an airport near the town of Humera amid a nearly week-old conflict in the northern Tigray region.

The state media announcement about the capture of the airport, 67 kilometres (42 miles) south of Humera, came as fighting continued with reports of Ethiopian government forces capturing territory.

“The Ethiopian National Defense Force has fully captured Humera Airport amid a continuation of the government’s military response against TPLF rebel group,” Fana TV reported, referring to the organisation that leads the government in the Tigray region.

Humera is located in the far northwest of the country near Ethiopia’s borders with Sudan and Eritrea.

The African Union on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire.

“Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat appeals for the immediate cessation of hostilities and calls on parties to respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians,” the AU bloc said in a statement, also urging talks.

The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, meanwhile, accused Eritrea of sending soldiers over the border to attack local forces.

In a statement on local TV, Debretsion Gebremichael gave no evidence for what would be a major escalation.

“Since yesterday, the army of (Eritrean leader) Isaias (Afwerki) have crossed the country’s boundary and invaded,” he said. “They were attacking via Humera using heavy arms.”

Eritrea’s government the accusation. “This is an internal conflict, we are not part of the conflict,” Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed said.

Hundreds of people have been killed in an escalating conflict that some fear could slide into civil war given deep animosity between the Tigrayans and the government of Abiy Ahmed, who comes from the majority Oromo ethnic group.

Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, ordered airstrikes and sent troops into Tigray last week after accusing the TPLF of attacking a military base.