Tigray Rebels Claim Territorial Gains in Ethiopian Civil War

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Forces loyal to the former ruling party in Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region claimed to have retaken territory lost to federal forces during eight months of fighting, indicating that a civil war in the eastern African nation may be far from over.

Tigray People’s Liberation Front troops, who made a strategic decision to go on the offensive in recent days and target four Ethiopian army divisions, advanced to within about 30 kilometers (19 miles) of Mekelle, Tigray’s regional capital, said Getachew Reda, a member of the party’s executive.

“We have launched an offensive at the divisions which we believed were critical,” Getachew said in an interview via satellite phone. The Ethiopian army and its allies “have abandoned many towns and cities,” and the offensive continues, he said.

Getachew’s claims couldn’t be independently verified by Bloomberg. Billene Seyoum, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Redwan Hussein, a spokesman for the government’s task force on Tigray, and the region’s interim government didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Fighting erupted in Tigray in early November after Abiy ordered an incursion into the northern region in response to a TPLF attack on a federal army base. Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 2 million people have been displaced. Abiy has repeatedly claimed victory in the conflict.

A United Nations official and a humanitarian worker, who both spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak to the media, confirmed Tigrayan forces have gone on the offensive in recent days and made some territorial gains. Their campaign was particularly successful on the road between the key towns of Axum and Adigrat, and on the main road leading north from Mekelle, they said.

The situation on the ground remains volatile and fighting is ongoing in several locations, the official and the aid worker said. Tigray forces were seen on Monday advancing into areas around Adigrat and as far as Wukro, about 50 kilometers from Mekelle, they said.

Meanwhile, dozens of people were killed in an air strike on a market place in the town of Togoga, northwest of Mekelle, on Tuesday, according to another UN official and a medical officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to comment. The attack was also widely reported on social media. The government officials also didn’t respond to requests for comment on the strike.

While allegations of atrocities have been leveled against all sides involved in the conflict, Abiy has borne the brunt of international criticism over the war, with the U.S. States imposing sanctions and halting budgetary support.

Last week, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray are on the brink of famine, a crisis diplomats have described as “man-made.” Ethiopia’s government has rejected the figure and says food aid has reached 5.2 million people in the region of 6 million inhabitants.

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