An official from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has stated that the war in Ethiopia is far from over and that Eritrean troops are part of the conflict.
Speaking for the first time since the fall of Mekelle, the capital of the northern Tigray region, Getachew Reda said the bulk of the region still remains in the hands of the TPLF.
“We withdrew from Mekelle because we did not want to give them the pretext to bombard the city back to the stone age, to indiscriminately bombard and destroy the town,” Reda, Ethiopia’s former Communications Minister and a member of the TPLF executive council, said by phone from inside the Tigray region.
Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) took control of the city on Saturday, according to a tweet from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. It was under fierce bombardment earlier on Saturday, a humanitarian source on the ground and eyewitnesses who have fled Mekelle reported.
“Abiy’s forces focused on capturing the towns but the bulk of the people are in the rural areas — the largest parts of the region — and that is where we are,” said Reda. “As we speak there are military engagements in the larger part of the region; we are defending our positions, there have been a series of offensives and we are taking defensive positions, it won’t be long before we reverse and launch a counteroffensive.”
Reda stated that he feared that the conflict was descending into ethnic cleansing, warning that Abiy is “pitting Amhara against Tigray.”
In response to the TPLF’s claims of ethnic killings and Eritrean military involvement, a spokeswoman for the federal government’s state of emergency task force said it was a “continued attempt” by the TPLF to “internationalize the situation and gain international support for impunity.”
“The rule of law operation militarily has ceased. There will no doubt be sporadic and dwindling attempts by the group on the run and those that have not been disarmed yet,” she added.
Abiy recently told Ethiopia’s parliament that not a single civilian had been lost in the war in Tigray. He said the war was over and it was time to rebuild the region.
Rights groups say hundreds have died, but those numbers cannot independently verified because of a communications blackout in the region. Internet, mobile phones, and landlines are down.
Reda contradicted Abiy’s assertion that the war was over and said the TPLF has launched multiple strikes against neighboring Eritrea because he claimed that “90% of the forces operating in Tigray are from Eritrea.”
He called on the international community to intervene in the Ethiopia conflict.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he spoke with Abiy on Monday, reiterating the need for de-escalation.
The conflict, which began in early November, threatens to undo years of progress in Africa’s second-most populous country and the restive Horn of Africa region. More than 47,000 Ethiopian refugees have now crossed into Sudan, said Babar Baloch, the global spokesman for UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.
Some of these refugees admitted to being beaten and tortured by Eritrean soldiers.
The UN’s humanitarian coordination office said on Friday it was doing its utmost to secure aid access to Ethiopia’s Tigray region after a deal was struck to reach displaced civilians.
“There are still operational issues of a logistical nature, some of them are of a security nature, that are being worked out, so that we can proceed with the missions,” said Jens Laerke, the spokesman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adding that “everyone, of course, (is) working full speed to make that happen.”
Humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide services amid the tsunami of refugees.
“We are underfunded, conditions are bad,” the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, on Friday. “It’s much worse inside Tigray, where we haven’t had access in a month.”
He said witness testimony did not match Abiy’s claims that civilians have not been harmed. However, other witnesses claim differently.
Oyeb Bari was woken by the sounds of guns and live ammunition on the night of November 9. The 55-year-old mother of six wasn’t immediately sure what was happening, but had heard about the unrest in her region.
It wasn’t long before “abusive” men started to bang on doors, and Oyeb realized her family was in danger.
They left their home onto the streets of Mai-Kadra, a market town in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. There she said she saw men, women and children being slaughtered by the aggressors with sharp weapons like machetes and knives.
Oyeb fled with four of her children on foot through forest pathways until they reached the Sudanese border, a few miles away. From there, they were transported by car to the Hamdayet refugee transit center, where they will stay until humanitarian organizations relocate them to a camp.
Her husband and two of her children are missing, she told CNN at Hamdayet.
“I thank the Sudanese people for giving us this home, but we are still hungry,” she said. “We took nothing with us, we just fled with the clothes we are wearing.”