Debretsion Gebremichael, in a phone interview with The Associated Press, said he was still near the Tigray capital, Mekele, which the Ethiopian army on Saturday said it now controlled. Far from accepting Abiy’s declaration of victory, the Tigray leader asserted that ”we are sure we’ll win.”
He also accused the Ethiopian forces of carrying out a ”genocidal campaign” against the Tigray people. With the Tigray region still cut off a month after the fighting began, no one knows how many people have been killed, and it’s difficult to verify the warring sides’ claims.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which controls the country’s northern region bordering Eritrea and Sudan once dominated Ethiopian politics as part of a ruling coalition called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told Ethiopia’s parliament on Monday that there had been no civilian casualties in the government offensive, which officials in Tigray vehemently dispute
During its 27 years in power, the country witnessed massive improvements in child mortality and agriculture. But the country remained a one-party state fueling feelings of exclusion among younger Ethiopians.
Abiy Ahmed who run on the promise of political reform, has been accused by the TPLF of political targeting and sidelining. The fight is about self-determination of the region of some 6 million people, the Tigray leader said, and it ”will continue until the invaders are out.”
Read more: Ethiopia: A timeline of the Tigray crisis
He asserted that his forces held an undetermined number of ”captives” among the Ethiopian forces, including the pilot of a fighter jet that his side claims to have shot down over the weekend.
”Civilian casualties are so high,” he said, albeit declining to offer even an estimated toll. He accused Ethiopian forces of ”looting wherever they go.”
However, in an address to parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed in parliament soldiers did not kill any civilians as they took over Mekele and other cities in Tigray.
“Mekele is ours, it was built with our own resources. We are not going to destroy it,” he told lawmakers. “Not even a single person was harmed by the operation in Mekele.”
Abiy said federal forces were monitoring Tigray’s leaders who had fled west of the capital and would soon attack them.
UN calls for helps as conflict worsens refugee crisis
As the two leaders traded accusations, more than 45,000 people have been displaced, many of them seeking shelter in camps in Sudan, according to the UN.
Conditions in the camps are tough and the health situation precarious. Medics with aid group Mercy Corps at the Um Raquba camp told AFP earlier that they had seen multiple cases of dysentery and tuberculosis, malaria and HIV among the refugees.
Speaking to DW on Monday, Ethiopia’s minister in charge of democratization, Zadig Abraha said the country was supplying food to refugees through UN agencies. He said the government would soon open a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to reach those in need.
mo/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)