By Simon Marks, June 22, 2021
- UN official confirms regional troops have mounted offensive
- Thousands of civilians have died during eight-month conflict
(Bloomberg) — Forces loyal to the former ruling party in Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region claimed to have retaken territory lost to federal forces during eight months of fighting, indicating that a civil war in the eastern African nation may be far from over.
Tigray People’s Liberation Front troops, who made a strategic decision to go on the offensive in recent days and target four Ethiopian army divisions, advanced to within about 30 kilometers (19 miles) of Mekelle, Tigray’s regional capital, said Getachew Reda, a member of the party’s executive.
“We have launched an offensive at the divisions which we believed were critical,” Getachew said in an interview via satellite phone. The Ethiopian army and its allies “have abandoned many towns and cities,” and the offensive continues, he said.
Getachew’s claims couldn’t be independently verified by Bloomberg. Billene Seyoum, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and Redwan Hussein, a spokesman for the government’s task force on Tigray, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Fighting erupted in Tigray in early November after Abiy ordered an incursion into the northern region in response to a TPLF attack on a federal army base. Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 2 million people have been displaced. Abiy has repeatedly claimed victory in the conflict.
A United Nations official and a humanitarian worker, who both spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak to the media, confirmed Tigrayan forces have gone on the offensive in recent days and made some territorial gains. Their campaign was particularly successful on the road between the key towns of Axum and Adigrat, and on the main road leading north from Mekelle, they said.
The situation on the ground remains volatile and fighting is ongoing in several locations, the official and the aid worker said. Tigray forces were seen on Monday advancing into areas around Adigrat and as far as Wukro, about 50 kilometers from Mekelle, they said.
While allegations of atrocities have been leveled against all sides involved in the conflict, Abiy has borne the brunt of international criticism over the war, with the United States imposing sanctions and halting budgetary support.
Last week, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray are on the brink of famine, a crisis diplomats have described as “man-made.” Ethiopia’s government has rejected the figure and says food aid has reached 5.2 million people in the region of 6 million inhabitants.