ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the military to deploy to the Tigray region on Wednesday after accusing the government there of attacking federal troops, a major escalation of a row between the premier and the once-powerful region.
In September, Tigray held regional elections in defiance of the federal government, which called the vote "illegal". The row has escalated in recent days with both sides accusing each other of plotting a military conflict.
Early on Wednesday, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) attempted to steal artillery and other equipment from federal forces stationed there, Abiy's office said in a statement.
"The last red line has been crossed with this morning's attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation," Abiy's office said in a statement.
The Ethiopian National Defence Forces have been ordered to carry out "their mission to save the country and the region from spiralling into instability", the statement said.
Debretsion Gebremichael, the president of the Tigray region, told a news conference on Monday that Abiy's government was planning to attack the region to punish it for holding the September election.
Debretsion and other Tigray officials were not immediately available for a comment after the prime minster's statement.
Tigrayans ruled Ethiopian politics since guerrilla fighters ousted a Marxist dictator in 1991, but their influence has waned under Abiy and last year, the TPLF quit his ruling coalition.
Tigray's population makes up 5% of Ethiopia's 109 million people, but its history in politics means it is wealthier and more influential than many other, larger regions.
The Tigray regional army is a well-trained, disciplined force dating back to the 1980s when it led the guerrilla movement that brought the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition to power, analysts say.