Rebels in Tigray on Saturday accused Ethiopia of killing dozens of people in a camp for displaced people in the north of the country at war, as the government showed signs of opening up to “national reconciliation” .
Several Ethiopian opposition figures were released on Saturday after an unexpected amnesty ordered by the government the day before to important political detainees, including leaders of the Tigrayan party.
The surprise announcement of the amnesty came after a call for “national reconciliation” launched Friday on the occasion of the celebration of Orthodox Christmas by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose country has been torn for 14 months by a conflict between the federal government and the rebels of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
But on Saturday, TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter that a drone attack on an internally displaced person’s camp “claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians,” according to a provisional death toll in the small town of Dedebit. , in the north-west of Tigray.
These allegations could not be independently verified and Ethiopian government officials have yet to respond to AFP’s requests. Access to Tigray is restricted and communications remain cut off in the region.
However, an official at the main hospital in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, told AFP that the hospital in the town of Shire, where the victims were evacuated, had reported 55 dead and 126 injured.
Mr. Getachew did not say when the attack took place.
Three other people were killed in an airstrike on a refugee camp in the region, the UN reported this week.
TPLF fighters withdrew at the end of December in their stronghold in the northernmost region of Tigray in the face of a military offensive by government forces, which regained control of a series of strategic towns.
Clashes have been on a lull since the TPLF retired, although rebels accuse the government of continuing to carry out deadly drone strikes on Tigray.
– “Unity” –
The TPLF has taken up arms since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the federal army to Tigray in November 2020 to remove the regional authorities – from the TPLF – who challenged his authority and whom he accused of having attacked bases military.
A TPLF counter-offensive enabled the rebels to reconquer most of the region at the end of June 2021 and to advance in those neighboring Amhara and Afar.
They said in November that they had arrived 200 km from Addis Ababa.
The conflict has claimed thousands of lives. Tigray, subject according to the UN to a “de facto blockade” of humanitarian aid, lacks food and medicine.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy also called for “unity” on Friday. But on Saturday he again blasted “foreign and internal enemies”, calling the TPLF “snakes”.
According to the government, the aim of the amnesty is “to pave the way for a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems.” “The key to lasting unity is dialogue,” added his statement, listing the names of several opposition leaders, but also important members of the TPLF.
– “Important gesture” –
It was not possible to know whether the government had offered negotiations to the TPLF, the party which de facto ruled Ethiopia for three decades until Mr. Abiy took power in 2018, but which is now considered to be. a “terrorist” group by Addis Ababa.
The amnesty has been hailed by the United Nations and the African Union, spearheads of international efforts to end the conflict.
The head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called it “an important gesture of appeasement of the political situation”, while the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he remained “actively engaged in help Ethiopia “to” restore peace and stability “.
For his part, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, greeted Saturday “positive measures”, while deploring the attack on the camp for displaced persons, a sign he said that the fighting was continuing. “All parties must seize the opportunity to quickly end the conflict and start a dialogue,” he added.
The number of detainees released is not yet known. The Balderas party has announced the release of its founder, Eskinder Nega, an opposition figure.
The list of named personalities also includes former media mogul Jawar Mohammed, member of the Oromo Federalist Congress. A former ally of Mr. Abiy – himself Oromo, the most numerous ethnic group in the country – Mr. Jawar had become one of his fiercest detractors.
Like Mr. Eskinder, Mr. Jawar was arrested in July 2020 along with other opposition figures, after an outbreak of violence triggered by the murder in Addis Ababa the previous month of a very popular singer, Hachalu Hundessa. .