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Ethiopia's TPLF militants still not out of the fight

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Militants of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) are nowhere near giving up the fight.

In Northen Tigray, their troops had managed to reclaim the town of Hawzen, when a team of journalists from the Associated Press reached the city in May.

Residents of Hawzen, a town of a few thousand people, have seen fighting four times since Prime minister Abiy Ahmed launched the military operation in November. 

Now, TPLF rebels are still determined to fight the central government.

"The people elected us. So we are not terrorists. Abiy Ahmed is the one who is the terrorist. A terrorist is someone who massacres people - and we do not massacre people. So categorising the TPLF as terrorists is not correct. He is the terrorist," blurts out TPLF commander Nurhussein Abdulmajid, standing confidently in the middle of the road with a gun on his shoulder, as a crowd listened.

"We will defeat them. Because they are invaders, we will def. Because they are invaders and they are massacring our people. We will defeat those who are slaughtering our people, and we will liberate our people."

If anything, recent atrocities appear to have increased support for the TPLF.

Government forces, along with allied militias from the rival Amhara ethnic group and soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea have been blamed for many atrocities.

One 19-year-old said she was raped by an Ethiopian soldier and is now six months pregnant. 

After failing to terminate her pregnancy herself, she is now desperately hoping someone in a local hospital will help her.

Defeated and angry, she wishes to join the ranks of the TPLF, as soon as possible.

"I want to go. If you stay home, you will die. If you go out there, you will die. If I'm going to die anyway, I would rather die fighting" she said.

Despite government forces holding several urban centers, fierce fighting continues in remote areas of the Tigray region.

Ethiopia recently acknowledged that the highly mobile guerrillas fighters were stretching its military, springing ambushes from the rugged highlands where they hide. 

In April, the International Crisis Group predicted that entrenched resistance on both sides meant "the conflict could evolve into a protracted war."

Representatives of the Ethiopian government didn't respond to requests for comment.

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