Ethiopian Opposition Claims 52,000 Killed in Tigray Conflict

Three Ethiopian opposition parties claimed at least 52,000 people died in the nation’s northern Tigray region since a conflict began there in November.

A further 3 million have been forced to flee their homes and even more are dependent on food aid, The Tigray Independence Party, National Congress of Great Tigray and Salsay Weyane Tigray said Tuesday in a joint statement.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a statement after the claim was published, saying enemies of the state are spreading misinformation, but without specifically citing the opposition statement. The parties’ estimate of the death toll hasn’t been independently verified.

The Tigray Independece Party’s leader, Girmay Berhe, didn’t immediately answer his phone when called for comment.

“Towns and villages have been demolished by blind artillery shelling, our health and educational facilities have been looted and destroyed,” the groups said in the emailed statement. They called on the Ethiopian government to end the war, start negotiations and ensure access for humanitarian aid.

Ethiopian federal troops began an incursion into Tigray on Nov. 4 and toppled the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which had set itself in opposition to Abiy since he came to power in April 2018. Though the government announced an end to hostilities on Nov. 28, the region’s ousted leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, has vowed to continue fighting.

Neither federal authorities nor the TPLF have given a death toll since the fighting started.

Reports on civilian casualties are “unsubstantiated and suffer from unfortunate political motives,” the government-run Ethiopia State of Emergency Fact Check said on its Twitter account Wednesday. Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Ethiopia's Emergency Task Force, and Abiy’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, didn’t immediately respond to text messages requesting comment.

“The figure given for those in need of aid is higher than Tigray’s estimated population, so it’s likely that the number of civilian fatalities is also significantly inflated by the three parties,” said William Davison, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

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