At least 20 civilians have been killed and tens of thousands displaced in heavy fighting between rebels and pro-government forces in Ethiopia's Afar region, which borders war-hit Tigray, an official told AFP Thursday.
"The heavy fighting is still continuing. So totally about 70,000 are affected directly and they are displaced... More than 20 civilians are dead," said Mohammed Hussen, an official with Ethiopia's national disaster response agency based in Afar.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to oust the region's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Though the 2019 Nobel Peace laureate declared victory later that month, fighting has dragged on, killing thousands of people and plunging hundreds of thousands into famine, according to the United Nations.
Last month the war took a stunning turn when pro-TPLF fighters retook the Tigray capital Mekele and Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire.
But clashes have continued especially in western and southern Tigray, disputed territories that were occupied by forces from Ethiopia's Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south, at the beginning of the war.
Officials from six regions and the city of Dire Dawa have since said they would send troops to back up government forces.
On Sunday, rebel spokesman Getachew Reda said pro-TPLF forces carried out a "very limited action" in Afar targeting special forces and militia fighters from Oromia region, the country's largest.
Yet Mohammed, the disaster response official, indicated Thursday that the operations were wider in scope and that civilians were caught in the crossfire.
"As we know the junta crossed the border to Afar and attacked the innocent pastoral community," he said, using a term that government officials employ to refer to the TPLF, which is officially considered a terrorist organisation.
"They are trying to subjugate the Afars. So now the federal forces are joining the Afar special forces, the Afar local communities, the Afar militias. In the last days the Afars were fighting and protecting themselves."