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Ethiopian government chooses to foster period of silence in Tigray

Ethiopia's prime minister spoke about the Tigray region to parliament on Monday.   -  
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Mulugeta Ayene/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed In an address to parliament on Monday expressed that his federal government has chosen -- not out of military necessity, to foster a period of silence to reflect on what is to come as far as the nations’ northern region Tigray -- the scene of civil war for eight months.

"In one, two or three weeks 100,000 trained, armed and organized special forces can be mobilized.

"If the special force isn't enough, if a militia is needed, in one or two months half a million militiamen can be organized. As you know our population is 100 million, one million youths can be mobilized and trained.

Ahmed's remarks came one week after the Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in the Tigray conflict and executed a claimed strategic withdrawal of federal forces to focus on other threats -- following the seizure of Mekele and most of the rest of the northern region by the Tigray Defence Forces rebel group. The armed group viewed its reoccupation as a victory.

Tigrayan leaders on Sunday issued their first formal response to Abiy's unilateral ceasefire declared around a week prior, saying they would only accept it if forces from Eritrea and Ethiopia's Amhara region -- who have been backing the Ethiopian army -- also withdrew from the area.

They also called for "proceedings" to hold Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki accountable for "damage" inflicted during the fighting, which has been marked by grisly massacres and widespread sexual violence.

Ahmed is yet to address these conditions.

- Brink of famine -

Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and many hundreds of thousands face hunger in Tigray, an important economic and industrial region in the Horn of Africa nation.

According to the United Nations, over 400,000 people have already "crossed the threshold into famine" in Tigray and 1.8 million people are on the brink.

Electricity and communications have been cut, flights suspended and two bridges crucial for aid deliveries have been destroyed.

Last week the TDF paraded what it said were thousands of captive Ethiopian soldiers through the streets of Mekele.

In his remarks Monday, however, Abiy said the TDF seized territory only because the army decided to leave, a process he said unfolded for more than a month.

He also offered lavish praise for the army.

"Our defence forces are not paid enough. They climb up and down mountains. In the rain, in the sun, they fight for the dignity of the country," Abiy said.

- Embassy and driver cuts -

Officials have in recent days highlighted the cost of the war in Tigray as a reason for why federal forces withdrew.

Ethiopia’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism and agriculture, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the worst locust infestation in decades, with the war in Tigray adding an extra strain on state finances.

On Monday Abiy repeated his claim that the government had spent more than $2 billion on infrastructure and other projects in the region to help it recover.

He also proposed several eyebrow-raising budgetary measures including closing some 30 embassies.

"Ethiopia shouldn't have 60 or so embassies and consulates in the present moment. Instead of throwing US dollars everywhere... at least 30 of the embassies should be closed and the ambassadors instead should be here," he said.

He said the Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya, for example, could be based in Addis Ababa and travel to Kenya to meet with officials while reading about Kenya in newspapers.

Instead of hiring drivers, Abiy said, government ministers will be required to drive themselves.

"What we want is a person who gets wet in the mud and runs while reforming the country," he said.

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