Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s said that the military is fighting “on eight fronts” in hotspots including the northern Tigray region, where adversaries have adopted “guerrilla” tactics.
His comments Saturday indicated that intense fighting continues in Tigray, where Abiy declared victory more than four months ago.
The winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize sent troops into Tigray in November to detain and disarm leaders of the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Abiy said the move came in response to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps.
Federal forces, backed by troops from Eritrea and Ethiopia’s Amhara region, quickly captured cities and towns.
But TPLF leaders remain on the run and fighting has persisted.
The International Crisis Group warned Friday that the conflict risked becoming a prolonged stalemate.
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“The junta which we had eliminated within three weeks has now turned itself into a guerrilla force, mingled with farmers and started moving from place to place,” Abiy, referring to the TPLF, said Saturday.
“Now, we are not able to eliminate it within three months,” he added.
“Eliminating an enemy which is visible and eliminating an enemy which is in hiding and operates by assimilating itself with others is not one and the same. It is very difficult and tiresome.”
Ethiopia’s military is also fighting a rebel group in the country’s Oromia region which the government has blamed for multiple massacres of civilians, including one last week that left dozens dead.
“Currently, the national defense forces and the federal forces are in a major fight on eight fronts in the north and the west against enemies which are anti-farmers, anti-civilians and causing strife among Ethiopians,” Abiy said.
In Tigray, Abiy’s government has downplayed the TPLF’s ability to wage an effective insurgency.
He told lawmakers last month that pro-TPLF fighters were like “flour dispersed by the wind.”
On Saturday Abiy said federal forces had “conducted wide operations in the last three days” causing “heavy damage to the enemies of the people,” vowing such efforts “will be strengthened and continued.”
Access restrictions for humanitarian workers, researchers and journalists have made it difficult to determine a death toll for the fighting so far.
But myriad reports have emerged of massacres, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence.
Abiy is facing mounting pressure to ensure the withdrawal of Eritrean soldiers from Tigray, and Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said Saturday night these troops had “started to evacuate.”