Hundreds of people have been killed by an escalating conflict in Ethiopia's restive Tigray region, government sources said, even as the prime minister sought on Monday to reassure the world that his nation was not sliding into civil war.
In the northern region bordering Eritrea and Sudan, the flare-up threatens to destabilize the second most populous nation in Africa, where ethnic conflict has already killed hundreds since the takeover of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018.
In support of the federal government push, Reuters reporters traveling in Tigray and the neighboring Amhara region saw trucks packed with armed militias and pickups with machine-guns mounted on the back rushing to the front line.
The Ethiopian national flag was waved by some militia members.
Abiy, the youngest leader of the continent at 44, won last year's Nobel Peace Prize for democratic reforms and peace with Eritrea. But last week, the Prime Minister of the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromo, launched a campaign against forces loyal to the Tigrayan leaders who were accused of attacking a military base in Dansha town.
"Concerns that Ethiopia will fall into chaos are unfounded and a consequence of not deeply understanding our background," he tweeted on Monday. "Our operation under the rule of law aims to guarantee peace and stability."
Abiy said that jets were bombing weapons depots and other targets. Heavy fighting on the ground was reported by aid workers and security sources.
A military official in Amhara, on the side of the federal forces, told Reuters that nearly 500 Tigrayan forces had been killed in clashes with Tigrayan forces in Kirakir, near the Tigray-Amhara border.
In Amhara, three security sources working with federal troops said that the Ethiopian army had also lost hundreds in the initial Dansha battle.
Reuters was unable to verify the numbers, although a diplomat also said that hundreds were thought to have died. The office of the Prime Minister and the national army of Ethiopia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The region's governing Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) is battle-hardened from both the war with Eritrea in 1998-2000 and the guerrilla war to overthrow Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. TPLF forces and allies of the militia number up to 250,000 men and have important hardware, experts say.