The Guardian

Ethiopian Olympian joins army to fight Tigrayan insurgency

- Guardian staff and agencies

The two-time Olympic gold medallist Haile Gebrselass­ie has announced he is enlisting in the Ethiopian military to fight an insurgency that threatens to attack the capital, Addis Ababa.

Gebrselass­ie, who set 27 long-distance running records, told Reuters he was joining up yesterday. The Olympic silver medallist runner Feyisa Lilesa would also enlist, local media reported.

Internatio­nal alarm has grown over the escalating war in Ethiopia as Tigrayan rebels edge closer to Addis Ababa. Yesterday, Switzerlan­d and Britain advised their citizens to leave Ethiopia, citing the worsening security situation. France and the US have already called on citizens to leave.

Britain’s minister for Africa, Vicky Ford, said the conflict was deteriorat­ing quickly. “In the coming days we may see the fighting move closer to Addis Ababa, which could severely limit options for British nationals to leave Ethiopia,” she said.

The country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has gone to direct the war from the frontlines, state-affiliated media reported. His government has described the conflict as an “existentia­l war”.

While Abiy is away, the deputy prime minister, Demeke Mekonnen Hassen, will take charge of routine government business, the government spokespers­on Legesse Tulu told a news conference, according to a report from the Fana news outlet.

Last month Tigrayan forces and their allies threatened to march on Addis Ababa. They have also been fighting to try to cut a transport corridor linking landlocked Ethiopia with the region’s main port in Djibouti.

On Tuesday, the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, said the Ethiopian military and regional militias had held back Tigrayan attempts to cut the corridor, but Tigrayan forces had been able to move south towards the Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia’s military spokespers­on did not respond to requests for comment.

Ethiopian police have trained about 147,000 civilians in the capital to form neighbourh­ood defence groups and help detect possible infiltrato­rs, police said.

Feltman, along with the former Nigerian president turned African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, has been trying to broker a ceasefire between the two sides. On Tuesday, Feltman said nascent progress risked being overshadow­ed by military developmen­ts.

Yesterday, Ethiopia expelled four of six Irish diplomats from the country because of Ireland’s stance on the conflict, the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said.

Ireland has been at the forefront of calling for meetings of the UN

security council on Ethiopia and pushing for council statements on the conflict since it joined the 15-member body in January.

The Ethiopian ministry of foreign affairs did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

The Irish foreign ministry said its embassy would remain open but it had asked its citizens to leave.

 ?? ?? ▲ Haile Gebrselass­ie of Ethiopia, 48, won two Olympic golds for running
▲ Haile Gebrselass­ie of Ethiopia, 48, won two Olympic golds for running

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