Attacks by Tigrayan forces in Ethiopia’s Afar region have forced more than 54,000 people from their homes, an official said, as refugees at a camp south of Tigray described large-scale clashes nearby.
Tens of thousands of people, meanwhile, gathered in the capital to support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has faced criticism for his handling of a conflict that threatens to undermine stability in Africa, the second most populous nation.
Tiger fighters, who want the Ethiopian government to accept their terms before talks on a ceasefire begin, have taken control of three districts in Afar this week, according to Ahmed Koloyta, a regional spokesman.
Afari is of strategic importance because the main road and railway connecting Addis Ababa, the landlocked capital of Ethiopia, with the seaport of Djibouti passes through it.
Ahmed quoted some of the displaced people as saying that Tigrajan fighters had burned houses, looted property and killed civilians. He provided no evidence and Reuters was unable to verify his allegations independently.
Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on the allegations.
The leader of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, said Thursday that Tigrayan forces were in Afar and that they planned to target forces from the neighboring Amhara region, which has fought on behalf of the government.
He was not immediately available for comment on Ahmeds’s allegations.
In southern Tigray, some Eritreans in the Adi Harush refugee camp said there had been fierce fighting nearby Thursday morning.
We are very afraid. The children are crying and we are praying, said one by phone, refusing to be mentioned for fear of revenge.
Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees who were in Tigray before the war began are trapped in two camps on the front line – Mai Aini and Adi Harush.
Fighting erupted in November between the TPLF, the ruling Tigrays party and the Ethiopian military. Abiy declared victory three weeks later when the army captured the regional capital of Mekelle, but the TPLF continued fighting.
He regained control of Mekelle and most of Tigray in late June after the government withdrew its troops. Nine other regions of Ethiopia have since announced they will send forces to support the army against Tigrayan fighters.
The conflict has brought international criticism of Abiy and concern for the stability of Africa’s second most populous nation.
Getachew said Tuesday that Tigrayan forces would do whatever it took for the government to accept their terms for the ceasefire negotiations. These include the complete withdrawal of government troops and their allies from the borders of the Tigrays War and the restoration of services such as electricity, telecommunications, transport links and banks.
Gunmen attacked a World Food Program convoy on Sunday, halting the movement of food aid to Tigray.
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