Ethiopia to target Tigray’s dissident leaders after taking region's capital

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday that hospitals in Mekelle were flooded with trauma patients

An Ethiopian refugee, who fled the fighting in Tigray Region, builds a shelter at a border reception centre (Village 8) in Gedaref State, eastern Sudan, on November 29, 2020.  / AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY

Ethiopian federal forces are tracking Tigray region's dissident leaders who had fled west of the regional capital after weeks of fighting and would "attack" them soon, President Abiy Ahmed said on Monday.

In a wide-ranging four-hour address to MPs, Abiy Ahmed recounted personal tales of alleged TPLF aggression and claimed there had been no civilian casualties in the three weeks of conflict.

Mr Abiy ordered military operations this month against the leaders of Tigray's ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), in response to what he said were TPLF-organised attacks on Ethiopian federal army camps.

Last week federal forces claimed they had taken the region’s capital, Mekelle, but as the area is under a communications blackout verification is difficult. TPLF leaders have repeatedly vowed to fight on as long as federal forces are on Tigrayan soil.

Their exact whereabouts remain unknown.

"Mekelle is ours, it was built with our own resources. We are not going to destroy it," Mr Abiy said. "Not even a single person was harmed by the operation in Mekelle."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday that hospitals in Mekelle were flooded with trauma patients. The NGO did not give an exact figure.

TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has also maintained that air strikes have resulted in many civilian casualties.

Mr Abiy refuted the accusation.

"Every missile launched is backed by the signature of an authority, 99 per cent hit their target, and 99 per cent did not have collateral damage," Mr Abiy said.

"When it is suspicious, we don't fire. Especially at night. Because we don't want to kill children, they are ours," he added.

Mr Abiy said on Monday that when he took office, he was hemmed in by a TPLF-run security and intelligence apparatus.

"My office in general was under the control of other forces. Even the key to my house was controlled by these people, they opened the door, they closed the door, morning and night," Mr Abiy said.

"This was the scenario I was in... I was unable to safeguard the safety of my family," he said.

He accused the TPLF of fomenting internal conflict, including ethnic clashes, throughout the country during his tenure, leaving only Tigray unaffected.

The conflict has forced tens of thousands from their homes and across the border into neighbouring Sudan.

Families have been separated and farmers forced to abandon their crops to take refuge in vast camps across the border, with limited access to water, food and sanitary facilities.

Many are holding onto hopes that normality will soon be restored to Tigray and they will be able to return to their lives.

"I love Ethiopia. I left my elderly mother and my farm behind. If there is peace and the war stops, I will immediately go back," Bergha Mongosto said last week at Sudan's Village Eight transit centre near the Ethiopian border.

Mr Abiy vowed on Monday that Ethiopia would be able to quickly welcome back Ethiopian refugees in Sudan.

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