Ethiopia claims big advance in Tigray, suffering worsens

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military has defeated local forces in the west of Tigray state, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday, accusing his foes of atrocities during a week of fighting that threatens to destabilise the Horn of Africa.
Air strikes and ground combat have killed hundreds, sent refugees flooding into Sudan, stirred Ethiopia’s ethnic divisions and raised questions over the credentials of Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. “The western region of Tigray has been liberated,” tweeted Abiy, 44, who comes from the largest ethnic group the Oromo and once fought with the Tigrayans against neighbouring Eritrea.
“The army is now providing humanitarian assistance.” With communications down and media barred, independent verification of the status of the conflict was impossible. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the mountainous northern state of more than five million people, announced a local state of emergency against what it termed an “invasion by outsiders”.
Abiy accuses the TPLF of starting the conflict by attacking a federal military base and defying his authority, while the Tigrayans say his two-year-old rule has persecuted them. The premier said some of his soldiers had been found dead in the town of Sheraro, shot with their legs and arms tied behind their back.
“This kind of cruelty is heartbreaking,” he said. He did not say how many bodies were found or provide proof. Reuters could not verify his allegation and there was no immediate response from the TPLF, which has accused federal troops of being “merciless” in bombing Tigrayans.
More than 11,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan since fighting started and aid agencies say the situation in Tigray is becoming dire. Even before the conflict, 600,000 people there were reliant on food aid. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said aid agencies were unable to restock food, health and other emergency supplies due to lack of access.
The UN agency’s representative in Ethiopia, Ann Encontre, said negotiations were under way with both sides for humanitarian corridors to be opened. A “major emergency” may be brewing with so many people escaping to Sudan, she warned. Half of the refugees were children and some were wounded. About two dozen vehicles of non-essential UN and other workers were pulling out of Tigray and returning to the capital Addis Ababa in convoy. — Reuters