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A convoy of Ethiopian National Defense Forces
Image: Ethiopian News Agency/AP/picture alliance

Ethiopia: 'Tigray leaders will be held accountable'

Clare Richardson
November 30, 2020

Ethiopia's minister in charge of democratization, Zadig Abraha, has told DW that the National Defense Force now controls Tigray and is now working to bring the rebel leaders to justice. TPLF has disputed the claims.


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared that National Defense Force troops "are in control of the whole region" around the Tigrayan capital of Mekele. However, the defiant leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, vowed to keep fighting. It is still difficult to get credible and reliable information from Mekele as telecommunications services are down. DW spoke with Ethiopia's democratization minister, Zadig Abraha

DW: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said the fighting is over, but Tigrayan forces claim that it's not yet finished. Is the region entirely under government control?

Zadig Abraha: When Saddam Hussein's Iraq was under the control of the US forces, its spokesperson used to say that they are in control until the American troops took up the whole capital. So, this is the same propaganda. We are in control of the whole region. Their last holdout was Mekele. Now we control every area of Mekele.

Zadig Abraha, Ethiopia's Minister for Democratization
Ethiopia's Minister for Democratization Zadig Abraha says TPLF is a defeated forceImage: Zadig Abraha Office

It's not we [Ethiopia's government] who have cut the telecom connectivity in Tigray: It is the TPLF who cut the telecom connectivity to keep the people disconnected from the rest of the world so that they would continue to be fed from the false propaganda. Now we are working with the experts to reconnect the telecom connectivity, and in some places it has already been restored.

Read more: Once enemies, Ethiopia and Eritrea ally against Tigray

It is difficult for independent observers to verify these reports because access to Tigray has been tightly controlled since the conflict began. When will media be allowed to access the Tigray region?

It is not us blocking the access. It is the situation. There was an active military operation that would have endangered the lives of journalists. At the same time, the telecom connectivity has been cut off. The road network has been destroyed. Airports are also destroyed.

We are working to rebuild that. Without these facilities, individuals cannot go and access information. We have nothing to hide. This government is an open government. It is the situation that is forbidding us from allowing journalists to access. Otherwise, we have nothing to hide.

As this happens, food and medical supplies are running low, and there is growing concern over a humanitarian crisis. How are you going to ensure the delivery of badly needed supplies?

Ethiopia is the third largest host of refugees in the world. We know how to deal with this situation. We are now supplying to the region a food in great quantities. We are working with the UN agencies to provide those in need of food. Soon we will also open a humanitarian corridor. With all these efforts, we believe, we will be able to help our citizens who are in dire need of food.

A WHO staff member stands next sealed boxes of personal protective equipment (PPE)
Aid agencies have called on Ethiopia's government to open up a humanitarian corridorImage: Getty Images/AFP/S. Habtab

The humanitarian corridor, you say it's coming soon, but how soon is soon?

As soon as we can repair networks. We are working day in, day out, trying to rebuild the resource, the connectivity that has been destroyed. There is already humanitarian access. Our relevant ministries are working with the UN agencies to supply food to those in need.

It is the situation that is stopping us.  We don't want our people to suffer. We are doing everything we can. We are using the national food storage to supply our people with everything we can. Our communities are mobilized. Our people are mobilized towards helping their loved ones. Everyone in the nation is working towards helping them out.

Read more: 'People in Tigray are terrified'

The prime minister has rejected dialogue with the Tigray People's Liberation Front leaders. So how are you going to broker an end to this conflict without sitting down at the table together?

The conflict is already ended. The TPLF is reduced to less than 100 people. The top echelon of the Tigrayan people has embraced the rule of law. Whenever our military personnel made their way to one of the Tigrayan cities, the people were welcoming them. So with whom are we going to negotiate? TPLF is defeated militarily. It no longer has its people by its side. This is about making them accountable for what they have been doing.

Interview: Clare Richardson

Zadig Abraha is Ethiopia's Minister for Democratization