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Fugitive ex-leader of Ethiopia's Tigray region vows 'extended resistance'

By Reuters | January 31st 2021

Debretsion Gebremichael, Tigray Regional President, attends the funeral ceremony of Ethiopia's Army Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen in Mekele, Tigray Region, Ethiopia June 26, 2019.

The former ruling party in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray is committed to “extended resistance”, according to an audio message purporting to be from its leader, who accused federal government forces and their allies of rape and looting.

The comments attributed to Debretsion Gebremichael would be the first public statement from him since Nov. 11, although he was in touch with reporters until the first week of December.

The recording was posted on the Facebook page of a media outlet affiliated with the former ruling party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been battling the government since Nov. 4.

“They (the federal government) have temporary military dominance,” said the recording, alleging rights abuses like rape and looting, reports of which have also been highlighted by the United Nations.

“We are engaged in extended resistance.”

Reuters was unable to independently verify the authenticity or date of the audio.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum and the head of the government taskforce on Tigray, Redwan Hussein, did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.

Abiy claimed victory against the TPLF in late November after his forces captured the regional capital Mekelle. But reports of low-level fighting have continued.

Thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes and there are shortages of food, water and medicine across the region of more than 5 million people.

“The cities and rural areas of Tigray are being bombarded day and night by heavy artilleries,” Debretsion said.

Reports from all sides are difficult to verify since the government has largely sealed off Tigray from journalists and foreign aid workers. Telecommunications to many areas are not working.

Debretsion called on Tigrayans abroad to contribute time and money to supporting the fighters and foreign nations to condemn the Ethiopian government, saying Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki should be charged in an international court.

Dozens of eyewitnesses have said Eritrean troops are present in Tigray to support Ethiopian forces, though both nations deny that.

Abiy’s government says the TPLF provoked the conflict by attacking army bases in Tigray and that the government is sending aid.

On Wednesday, a U.S. State Department spokesman called for humanitarian access to Tigray, referring to credible reports of looting, sexual violence and assaults in refugee camps.

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