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Ethiopia says TPLF rebels 'routed' in Afar after months of clashes

TPLF rebels arrive after eight hours of walking in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on June 29, 2021   -  
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Ethiopia said Thursday that rebels from war-hit Tigray had been routed from the neighbouring region of Afar.

The office of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) had "suffered great losses" and were forced to retreat from Afar, two months after the rebels launched incursions into the region - the latest turn in a 10-month war.

"TPLF's claims of having withdrawn from the Afar region -- and I put it quote-unquote -- that is not true. They have been routed," Abiy's spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told a press conference.

"The Afar militia has been working in close collaboration with the national defence forces and the TPLF have sustained a lot of losses over the past weeks," she added.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda disputed the claim in a series of Twitter posts.

"#Abiy & Co are trying to have their supporters believe that they are making advances in battlefields in #Amhara and #Afar: they are not," he said, adding that "thousands are being mopped down by our forces" daily.

But he made no mention of operations in Afar, instead highlighting fighting in three Amhara towns.

The rebels had advanced into Afar and Amhara regions in early July and vowed to march onto the capital, after rejecting a ceasefire offer by Addis Ababa. In both areas, they have been accused of committing massacres and other war crimes. 

Northern Ethiopia has been racked by violence since last November. Fighting started after TPLF forces attacked a federal army base in Tigray, killing soldiers. 

Massacre probe

On Wednesday, officials and medics in Amhara region accused the TPLF of massacring 125 civilians in the Amhara village of Chenna.

The toll could not be independently verified.

Getachew said Wednesday the rebels "categorically reject claims of our forces' involvement in the killing of civilians".

Billene said Thursday the death toll in Chenna was "an estimated 200 innocent civilians, which includes women, children, elders and deacons."

She said officials had formed a committee to investigate the incident.

The African Union last week urged Abiy's government to step up efforts to ensure humanitarian access to Tigray to prevent starvation, as aid workers struggle to reach desperate populations.

Abiy rejected early appeals from high-level AU envoys for talks with Tigrayan leaders, sticking to his line that the conflict is a limited "law and order" operation.

On Thursday, Billene said Ethiopia was considering offers by neighbouring countries to help facilitate a solution to the conflict.

"These efforts are seen positively by the Ethiopian government and as an extension of goodwill, and they are being reviewed."

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