The fugitive leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region has called on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to “stop the madness” and withdraw troops from the territory.
Debretsion Gebremichael said he remains near the Tigray capital, Mekele, which the Ethiopian army on Saturday said it now controlled. Far from accepting Mr Abiy’s declaration of victory amid the fighting, the Tigray leader asserted that “we are sure we’ll win”.
He also accused the Ethiopian forces of carrying out a “genocidal campaign” against the Tigray people. With the Tigray region still cut off a month after the fighting began, no-one knows how many people have been killed.
Each government regards the other as illegal after Mr Abiy sidelined the once-dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front after taking office in early 2018.
The fight is about self-determination of the region of some six million people, the Tigray leader said, and it “will continue until the invaders are out”.
He asserted that his forces held an undetermined number of “captives” among the Ethiopian forces, including the pilot of a fighter jet that his side claims to have shot down over the weekend.
The Tigray leader also asserted that his forces still have several missiles and “we can use them whenever we want”, though he rejected a question about striking at the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, saying the primary aim is to “clear Tigray from the invaders”.
He again accused Mr Abiy of collaborating with neighbouring Eritrea in the offensive in Tigray, something Mr Abiy’s government has denied.
As for the idea of talks with Mr Abiy’s government, something Mr Abiy’s government has repeatedly rejected, the Tigray leader said that “depends on the content” and Ethiopian forces would first have to leave the region.
“Civilian casualties are so high,” he said, though denied having any estimate of the toll. He accused Ethiopian forces of “looting wherever they go”.
“The suffering is greater and greater every day,” he said, calling it collective punishment against the Tigray people for their belief in their leaders.