Tigray forces claim rights abuse on civilians by national army

Warring parties in Ethiopian conflict talk tough

Refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia wait to receive medical attention in Sudan.
Refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia wait to receive medical attention in Sudan.
Image: Byron Smith

Addis Ababa - Bombing, looting and skirmishes persisted in parts of Ethiopia’s Tigray region at the weekend, a rebellious force in the north of the country said after government troops declared they were within days of capturing the group's leaders.

A month of fighting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is believed to have killed thousands of people and driven some 46,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan.

Abiy’s government has said the conflict is winding down a week after it seized Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, but TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters in a text message on Saturday there was still fighting outside the city.

He said federal forces bombed the town of Abbi Adi on Friday, without giving further details, while a TPLF spokesperson accused government troops of looting in Mekelle.

“[They are] looting civilian properties, hotels and damaging factories after looting,” the spokesperson, Getachew Reda, told a TPLF-owned TV station.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Most communications in Tigray are down and access to the area is severely restricted, making it hard to verify either side’s statements.

Abiy used to be a political partner of the TPLF - which dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition for nearly three decades - but he irked his former allies by putting Tigrayan officials on trial for corruption and rights abuses. They said the arrests were politically motivated, accusing Abiy of trying to tighten his grip over Ethiopia’s 10 semi-autonomous federal states. Abiy denies that and has called the TPLF leaders criminals who mutinied against federal authority.

“Residents are still staying away from their homes. Women are hiding in caves with their children,” one man said at a meeting aired on EBC. Others complained about looting in the town. Abiy’s government has said it will protect civilians in the northern region and ensure their needs are met.

Abiy, who took office in 2018, won a Nobel Peace Prize the following year for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea and democratic reforms. He began opening up a closed economy, loosening a repressive political system and taking action against those accused of corruption and rights abuses - some of whom were Tigrayan officials. His government has also jailed thousands of opponents after violent unrest, angering his rivals.

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