Tigray leader urges Ethiopia's PM to withdraw troops from region
The fugitive leader of Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray region on Monday urged Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to withdraw troops from the region and claimed that fighting continues “on every front” two days after Abiy declared victory.
Debretsion Gebremichael, in a phone interview with The Associated Press, said he remains near the Tigray capital, Mekele, which the Ethiopian army on Saturday said it now controlled.
Rejecting 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.
Each government regards the other as illegal after Abiy sidelined the once-dominant Tigray People's Liberation Front after taking office in early 2018.
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.”
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.
The Tigray leader also asserted that his forces still have several missiles and held an undetermined number of “captives” among the Ethiopian forces.
He again accused Abiy of collaborating with neighboring Eritrea in the offensive in Tigray, something Abiy’s government has denied.
As for the idea of talks with Abiy’s government, the Tigray leader said that “depends on the content” and Ethiopian forces would first have to leave the region. Abiy’s government has repeatedly rejected any negotiations with the Tigray leader.
“Civilian casualties are so high,” he said, though denied having any estimate of the toll. He accused Ethiopian forces of “looting wherever they go.”
“The suffering is greater and greater every day,” he said, calling it collective punishment against the Tigray people for their belief in their leaders.
Nearly a month of fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray regional ones has threatened to destabilize Ethiopia, as well as the strategic Horn of Africa region.
Fears of a widespread humanitarian disaster are growing. The U.N. has been unable to access the Tigray region with aid. Human rights groups and others worry about the atrocities that might emerge once transport and other links are restored.
Nearly 1 million people have been displaced, including about 44,000 who fled into Sudan. Camps in Tigray that are home to 96,000 Eritrean refugees have been in the line of fire.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on Monday urged the government to quickly restore basic services and humanitarian aid access to the Tigray region and allow access to independent investigations into “grave human rights violations." It also expressed concern about profiling of ethnic Tigrayans.