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Ethiopia says TPLF members killed, captured in fresh Tigray operation

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ethiopian refugees, who fled the Tigray conflict, walk past the Tenedba camp sign in Mafaza, eastern Sudan on January 8, 2021, after being transported from the reception center. (Photo by AFP)

The military confrontation in Ethiopia's Tigray seems far from over two months after a violent conflict erupted in the northern region, with government forces now saying they have killed more than a dozen members of the former ruling party in the restive region.

State-run TV cited a military source as saying on Sunday that 15 TPLF members had been killed and eight other party members captured.

Citing a brigadier-general from the National Defense Force, the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) said the region’s former president Abay Weldu, also a former chairman of TPLF, was among those captured.

The region’s former deputy police commissioner was among those killed by government forces, EBC added.

In late November after weeks of fighting, Ethiopia declared victory against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party that previously governed the province and enjoyed huge political clout in Addis Ababa. 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on November 28 that the federal government was "fully in control" of the regional capital Mekelle, and was clearing the surrounding areas of hostile rebel forces. 

Fugitive leaders of the TPLF pledged back then to resist and continue to fight the federal government from their mountain hideouts.

The latest announcement about fresh killings and detentions comes after the military said on Friday that it had captured Sebhat Nega, a founding member of the TPLF.

On Saturday, he was transported to the capital Addis Ababa, state TV reported, adding the region’s former vice president, Abraham Tekeste, was also captured.

However, the whereabouts of TPLF's current leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, and other members of the party’s central committee and many high-ranking former military officers, remained unknown.

The armed confrontation in the region has resulted in a serious humanitarian crisis for the local population.

Many of the hospitals in Tigray have been struck by artillery fire during the two months of fighting, according to a humanitarian assessment of the devastation as aid begins to arrive with desperately needed supplies.

The humanitarian assessment, which was prepared by a joint mission of Ethiopia’s government, UN agencies and aid groups that traveled to Mekelle and the surrounding communities, did not say who fired shells at hospitals.

The assessment cited regional authorities as saying over 4.5 million people, more than two-thirds of the population, were in need of humanitarian assistance including food, medical supplies and other basics.

“The little food stock the affected communities had have either been looted, burned, or damaged,” the assessment said, adding that a locust outbreak has worsened the situation. “Living conditions for both recently displaced people and host communities remain very critical.”

“As a result of the conflict, many houses, shops, and private stores were burned or damaged.” Schools, health centers, shops and other buildings were looted. Transportation and communications links were damaged, as well, it added.

To make matters worse, the United Nations warned that millions of people in the region were susceptible to a "massive" coronavirus outbreak after access was restricted by the government due to the conflict.

The TPLF had dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades; however, the group's political clout declined after Abiy rose to power in 2018.

Since then, the government has introduced a number of reforms. Many senior Tigrayan officials, who resisted the reforms, were either detained, fired, or sidelined, in what the federal government called a clampdown on corruption.

The Tigrayan forces have been accused of creating fresh tensions with the intent of dragging neighboring countries into an international conflict.

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