UPDATES WITH ETHIOPIAN GOVERNMENT STATEMENT; REVISES HEADLINE, DECK; EDITS THROUGHOUT
By Andrew Wasike and Addis Getachew
NAIROBI, Kenya/ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – Ethiopia on Tuesday rejected claims by Tigrayan rebels that they were retreating voluntarily from the northern Afar and Amhara regions, saying that they were pushed out by government forces.
Billene Seyoum, press secretary for the Ethiopian prime minister’s office, said the army and its allied forces “have made considerable gains in reversing the occupation by TPLF [Tigray People's Liberation Front] of many Amhara and Afar towns.”
She said sections of the international community and media were “amplifying the TPLF’s narratives for their own agenda.”
“There is an open invitation for those, particularly from the international media … who want to go document and discuss with those who witnessed the intense battles and what has transpired,” she said at a news briefing.
“I wouldn’t just leave it to a statement issued by a group [TPLF] that has been deemed a terrorist organization.”
Billene reiterated that the Ethiopian government has rejected a resolution endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council to send a team of international experts to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia.
Her remarks came after TPLF officials issued statements saying that Tigrayan forces were retreating to “create an opening for peace.”
In a letter to the UN, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael said he ordered his troops to withdraw to Tigray to give room for the international community to push for a peace process.
He called for arms embargoes on Ethiopia and its northern neighbor Eritrea, along with a no-fly zone for hostile aircraft over Tigray, and a UN probe to confirm that there were no more external forces left in Tigray.
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda said the decision had “taken away whatever excuse the international community has to explain its feet-dragging when it comes to putting pressure on [Ethiopian Prime Minister] Abiy Ahmed and his regional partners in crime to stop their genocidal campaign in Tigray.”
In a tweet on Tuesday, he accused the Ethiopian army of “desperate attempts … to try and stop our forces from taking their defensive positions within Tigray in what appears to be a ploy to sabotage our full withdrawal from Amhara and Afar.”
He said this “could be yet another effort … to antagonize any overtures for peace,” warning that “what’s happening in these areas adjoining Amhara and Afar with Tigray will be addressed and met with an equal measure of resistance.”
Thousands of people have been killed as Ethiopian forces have been fighting the Tigrayan rebels since November last year.
The conflict has also impacted other areas of the country, forcing at least 2 million people from their homes and leaving multitudes of civilians without access to critical humanitarian assistance.
Acute food insecurity is now affecting more than 9.4 million people in northern Ethiopia, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Within Tigray, 5.2 million people – roughly 90% of the population – are in need of humanitarian aid.
According to the UN, all parties to the conflict, including the Ethiopian army, Tigrayan forces, and the Eritrean military have “to varying degrees” committed violations of international human rights.