Nine rebel groups battling Ethiopia’s government will “collaborate and join forces” Friday, they said in a statement announcing the alliance, which comes as fears grow of Tigrayan fighters advancing on the capital.
The alliance, due to be signed in Washington later on Friday, includes the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been locked in a year-long war against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.
The TPLF said Wednesday that its fighters had reached the town of Kemissie in Amhara region, 325 kilometres (200 miles) northeast of the capital, and were running “joint operations” with the OLA, which predicted Addis Ababa could fall in a matter of weeks.
The nine groups said they were forming a united front “to reverse the harmful effects of the Abiy Ahmed rule on the peoples of Ethiopia… and in recognition of the great need to collaborate and join forces towards a safe transition in the country.”
It is unclear whether the alliance, named the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces, will affect the trajectory of the conflict, which Abiy’s government has termed “an existential war”.
The TPLF and the OLA, which the government officially designated as terrorist groups in May, are well-known, but the alliance’s other seven members are obscure, said one diplomat following security matters.
“If they are really serious about taking up arms against the government then it’s potentially a real problem for the government,” the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Abiy’s government has meanwhile dismissed rebel claims of territorial gains, saying Thursday that the TPLF was “encircled” and close to defeat, while also urging Ethiopians to unite and join the fight.
On Friday, the defence ministry called on veterans to re-enlist in the armed forces “to safeguard the country from a conspiracy to disintegrate it.”
The new alliance could be an attempt by the TPLF to demonstrate it has a broad base of support across Ethiopia.
The TPLF attempted to put together a similarly diverse coalition in the late 1980s, ahead of toppling longtime autocratic ruler Mengistu Hailemariam in 1991.
That coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), went on to rule the country for nearly three decades before a prolonged protest movement brought Abiy to power in 2018.
Abiy sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF, promising a swift victory. But by late June the rebels had retaken most of Tigray and expanded into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced into famine-like conditions, according to the UN.