Ethiopia’s government denied yesterday that northern forces whom its troops have fought for a month would be able to mount a guerrilla insurgency, while diplomats said a United Nations team was shot at while trying to visit a refugee camp.
ederal troops have seized the regional capital Mekelle from the former local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and declared an end to their month-long offensive.
But TPLF leaders say they are fighting back on various fronts around Mekelle. Ethiopia experts fear a drawn-out insurgency with a destabilising impact around east Africa.
“The criminal clique pushed a patently false narrative that its fighters and supporters are battle-hardened and well-armed, posing the risk of protracted insurgency in the rugged mountains of Tigray,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement.
“It also claimed that it has managed to undertake strategic retreat with all its capability and regional government apparatus intact. The reality is the criminal clique is thoroughly defeated and in disarray, with insignificant capability to mount a protracted insurgency.”
There was no immediate TPLF response.
With communications largely down and access for humanitarian workers and media restricted, it is difficult to verify claims from all sides on the state of fighting.
A United Nations security team seeking to access Shimelba refugee camp, one of four for Eritrean refugees in Tigray, was fired at on Sunday, two diplomatic sources said.
The sources declined to give more details, saying the full circumstances were unclear. There was no immediate comment from the government, TPLF or United Nations.
The conflict, which came after Mr Abiy had pushed back against the TPLF’s past dominance of federal government and accused them of abuses, is thought to have cost thousands of lives.
It has also sent nearly 50,000 refugees fleeing to Sudan, seen TPLF rockets fired into Eritrea, stirred ethnic divisions, and led to the disarming of Tigrayans in Ethiopia’s peacekeeping contingency fighting al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.
The United Nations and aid agencies are pressing for safe access to Tigray, which is home to more than five million people and where 600,000 people relied on food aid even before the war.
The government says with peace restored, its priorities are the welfare of Tigrayans and return of refugees. But some residents, diplomats and the TPLF say clashes persist, with protests and looting also reported in Mekelle last Friday.
The Ethiopian government issued arrest warrants for 10 senior police officers in Addis Ababa yesterday, saying they had committed treason and rights abuses by accepting unspecified missions for the TPLF, according to state-controlled media.
The TPLF dominated government for nearly three decades, until Mr Abiy took office in 2018 and began democratic reforms.
The party accuses him of seeking to centralise power at the expense of Ethiopia’s 10 regions and says Tigrayan officials were unfairly targeted in a crackdown on corruption and rights abuses.