Thousands killed in Ethiopia's conflict, Tigray side asserts

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Tigray refugees arrive on the banks of the Tekeze River on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Ethiopian forces on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 blocked people from the country's embattled Tigray region from crossing into Sudan at the busiest crossing point for refugees, Sudanese forces said. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

NAIROBI – Several thousand combatants have been killed in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, an official with the fugitive regional government is asserting, although claims remain difficult to verify after a month of fighting between Ethiopian and regional forces.

Getachew Reda, a senior adviser to the Tigray leader, in an interview with Tigray TV aired Thursday urged young people and others in the region to “rise and deploy to battle in tens of thousands.” His call came days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over the weekend declared victory in a power struggle that exploded between his government and the heavily armed regional one that once dominated Ethiopia's ruling coalition.

The fighting continues in some areas, and with the leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front on the run in rugged territory, fears remain of a drawn-out conflict. But with communications and transport links still largely severed to the region of 6 million people, it’s difficult to know the situation on the ground, including the extent of popular support for the TPLF and the number of people killed.

“Our capacity to resist ultimately depends on the support we get from our people,” Getachew said. “It is possible to have the scenario where we stop everything and turn all the people into soldiers.”

He didn’t say how many people are actively fighting but said “our army is doing amazing things with limited numbers,” and he claimed there had been tens of thousands of deaths among Ethiopian forces and those from neighboring Eritrea, which the TPLF insists is also involved. Ethiopia’s government denies that.

Getachew also acknowledged casualties on the TPLF side but didn’t say how many.

Ethiopian forces over the weekend announced they had “full control” of the Tigray capital, Mekele, a city of a half-million people. Getachew said their side had made a “strategic withdrawal” from the city to minimize destruction.

International patience is wearing thin as Abiy's government resists dialogue with the regional government it regards as illegal and as hunger grows in the cut-off Tigray region.