Rival sides offer conflicting accounts over developments in Afar region as 10-month conflict in northern Ethiopia drags on.
Ethiopia’s federal government has said rival forces from the war-hit Tigray region had been beaten in neighbouring Afar region and had withdrawn, but the Tigrayan forces said they had simply redeployed troops to next-door Amhara region for an offensive there.
“The TPLF force has left Afar,” foreign ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti told reporters at a news conference in the capital, Addis Ababa, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which ruled Ethiopia for three decades but was the northern region’s ruling party when fighting broke out in November 2020.
“According to a military information, they were defeated and they left,” he said.
Tigrayan spokesperson Getachew Reda, speaking to Reuters news agency by satellite phone from an undisclosed location, said the Ethiopian authorities had only now realised Tigrayan forces had withdrawn.
“We were not defeated. There was no fighting in Afar so we made troop movements from there to the highlands in adjoining Amhara region,” he said.
It was not immediately possible to verify either claim.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman told a news conference in Addis Ababa that the Tigrayan forces had been “routed” in the Afar region by the military and the region’s militia forces, which she said had closely collaborated and inflicted heavy losses on the Tigrayan forces.
“The Afar militia has been working in close collaboration with the national defence forces and the TPLF have sustained a lot of losses over the past weeks,” Billene Seyoum said.
Getachew disputed the claim in a series of Twitter posts.
“#Abiy & Co are trying to have their supporters believe that they are making advances in battlefields in #Amhara and #Afar: they are not,” he said, adding that “thousands are being mopped down by our forces” daily.
“The fighting in Amhara region is proceeding in a manner that will make sure #Abiy cannot lie his way out,” he said.
Northern Ethiopia has been racked by violence since last November when Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent troops into Tigray, saying the move was in response to attacks on army camps by the TPLF.
The TPLF, which dominated national politics until Abiy came to power in 2018, said federal forces and its allies launched a “coordinated attack” against it.
The 10-month war has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million to flee their homes. There have been myriad reports of massacres and atrocities, including rape and extrajudicial killings, and hundreds of thousands of people suffering famine.
In July, after the TPLF recaptured the regional capital of Mekelle and seized back most of Tigray, its forces advanced into Afar and Amhara regions, marking an expansion of the conflict into previously untouched areas.
Since then, the government estimates that about 450,000 people have fled fighting in those two regions.
Abiy rejected early appeals from high-level AU envoys for talks with Tigrayan leaders, sticking to his line that the conflict is a limited “law and order” operation.
On Thursday, Billene said Ethiopia was considering offers by neighbouring countries to help facilitate a solution to the conflict.
“These efforts are seen positively by the Ethiopian government and as an extension of goodwill, and they are being reviewed.”