Ethiopia's government has said that rebels have committed "serious crimes" after conflict broke out this month in the northern Tigray region, as US President-elect Joe Biden's foreign policy adviser called for greater protection of civilians.
The conflict has killed hundreds, sent 30,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan, and called into question whether Africa's youngest leader Abiy Ahmed can hold together the fractious ethnic groups in Africa's second most populous nation ahead of national elections next year.
Special THX & appreciation to @AsstSecStateAF for his accurate observations. Police action to uphold rule of law, ensure law & order & establish peace in Tigray region will continue. Justice will be served to the terrorists & peace shall reign in Ethiopia!https://t.co/K6nlWfxTNa— Fitsum Arega (@fitsumaregaa) November 20, 2020
The Ethiopian government statement referenced reports of ethnic killings in the town of Mai Kadra, documented by human rights group Amnesty International this week.
Survivors of the reported attack told Amnesty researchers that militias affiliated to the local Tigray government killed scores or even hundreds of civilians, some of whom were ethnic Amharas.
Information from all sides has been impossible to verify because internet and phone connections to Tigray have been suspended and the government has restricted access to the area.
"As we enter the final phase of law enforcement operations against this group, we would like to remind the leaders of this group that the atrocities that have been committed by their forces and loyalists in places like Maykadra constitute serious crimes both under Ethiopian and international law," the statement said, using an alternative spelling.
There was no immediate response from the leadership of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which is leading the rebellion.
On Thursday, Antony Blinken, the foreign policy advisor to US president Joe Biden, called for more protection for civilians.
BREAKING: The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region confirms firing missiles at neighboring Eritrea’s capital, and threatens more. https://t.co/lzVW0TkbZB— The Associated Press (@AP) November 15, 2020
The Ethiopian government statement came a day after arrest warrants were issued for 76 military officials that the government said were affiliated with the Tigray leadership.
Ethiopian federal forces are trying to advance along main roads from the south and the northwest of Mekelle and had got to within around 200 km of the Tigrayan capital, a diplomat monitoring the conflict said.
TPLF leader says Shire fallen to federal troops
The leader of rebel forces said on Thursday that the town of Axum remained in their hands though another locality, Shire, had fallen to federal troops seeking to close in on the state capital Mekelle.
"Shire has fallen three days back but Axum is with us, but there is an army sent to control Axum, but there is a fight," Debretsion Gebremichael, who heads the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), said in a text to Reuters.
The head of the government task force for Tigray did not immediately return calls seeking comment
Tigray civilians in Sudan last week told Reuters that they were targeted by government-affiliated militia because of their ethnicity. Their claims were also impossible to verify.
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