NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – The fugitive leader of Ethiopia’s provocative Tigray region on Monday called on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to “stop the madness” and withdraw troops from the area, saying the fighting continued “on all the fronts ”two days after Abiy declared victory.
Debretsion Gebremichael, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, said he remained near Tigray’s capital, Mekele, which the Ethiopian military said on Saturday it now controlled. Far from accepting Abiy’s declaration of victory, the leader of Tigray affirmed that “we are sure that we will win”.
He also accused Ethiopian forces of carrying out a “genocidal campaign” against the Tigray people. As the Tigray region is still cut off a month after the start of the fighting, no one knows how many people were killed and it is difficult to verify the claims of the belligerents.
Each government considers the other illegal after Abiy ousted the once dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front after taking office in early 2018.
The fight is for self-determination in the region of some 6 million people, the leader of Tigray said, and it “will continue until the invaders are out”. He said his forces were holding an unknown number of Ethiopian forces “captives”, including the pilot of a fighter plane that his side claims to have shot down over the weekend.
The Tigray chief also claimed his forces still had several missiles and “we can use them whenever we want”, although he dismissed a question about the strike on the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, saying the main objective was to “rid Tigray of invaders.” He again accused Abiy of collaborating with neighboring Eritrea in the offensive in Tigray, which Abiy’s government denied.
As for the idea of talks with the Abiy government, which Abiy’s government has repeatedly rejected, the Tigray leader said “depends on the content” and that Ethiopian forces should first leave the country. region.
“The number of civilian casualties is so high,” he said, while denying having an estimate of the toll. He accused Ethiopian forces of “looting wherever they go”.
“The suffering is increasing every day,” he said, calling it collective punishment against the Tabby people for their belief in their leaders.
Nearly a month of fighting between federal Ethiopian forces and regional forces from Tigray threatened to destabilize Ethiopia, the linchpin of Africa’s strategic horn, and its neighbors.
Hospitals and health centers in the Tigray region are “dangerously” short of supplies to treat the injured, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday. Food is also poor, with the region cut off from outside help for nearly a month.
In a rare report from inside Mekele, the ICRC also said that a large hospital in northern Ethiopia, the Ayder Referral Hospital, is lacking body bags and that 80% of its patients suffer from trauma.
Fears of a generalized humanitarian catastrophe are growing. The United Nations was unable to access the Tigray region with assistance. Human rights groups and others are worried about atrocities that could occur once transport and other links are restored.
Almost a million people have been displaced, of which around 44,000 have fled to Sudan. The Tigray camps, which are home to 96,000 Eritrean refugees, are in the crosshairs.
“Above all, we need access” to Tigray, UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said on Sunday, adding that his UN colleagues in Addis Ababa were in talks with the government. Abiy’s government has promised a self-managed “humanitarian corridor”, but the UN has stressed the importance of neutrality.