Ethiopian soldiers did not kill any civilians in Tigray, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Monday told the federal parliament in what could be the latest accusation of mass murder on the part of the TPLF fighters.
In a speech televised to the world, Dr Abiy, who spoke to the Federal House of Representatives, said the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) were careful to avoid any civilian installations including towns.
He spoke a day after announcing the end of the military operations in the northern part of the country, targeting what he called the 'junta' of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
“Why would we strike Mekelle? Mekelle is ours. It's Ethiopia's. Our ENDF operate with utmost discipline with care for civilians,” Dr Abiy said.
The TPLF has been accused of a massacre of civilians after Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission separately said unarmed civilians were killed in the Tigray town of Mai-Kadra.
“There is no way to explain the Mai-Kadra massacre perpetrated by TPLF. It is the epitome of moral degeneration,” the prime minister said.
He told the audience that the ENDF avoided destroying some tanks owned by the TPLF because they had been stationed in civilian areas, endangering life.
PM Abiy used the speech in parliament to chide the TPLF for past atrocities as well as insist the issue was largely an internal affair.
“We love to discuss, we hate wars. We begged…. we are known by peace.
“We want to tell our friends that if you want to be friends with us, please first understand us. We have many years of experience, even more than most of your countries. We may be poor but we are not a country that will negotiate our sovereignty. Threatening Ethiopia for coins will not work.
“Ethiopia has one government and that government respects the law. We don't want to look like others. We want to look like ourselves. The fact that we didn't sit down with the criminals for dialogue doesn't mean we weren't interested in dialogue.”
The TPLF once ruled Ethiopia for three decades, mostly as part of a coalition known as the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). When Dr Abiy came to power in 2018, he sought to dismantle their grasp on power.
While speaking in Parliament, he said the TPLF wanted to manipulate everything in their favour and went as far as pretending they were on his side.
“The impression that TPLF left when EPRDF decided to merge is a false narrative,” PM Abiy said referring to the merger of EPRDF parties into the Prosperity Party last December.
“TPLF itself endorsed the merger. TPLF itself had also voted for the decision to adopt the Algiers decision and forge peace with Eritrea. But they went public to say they didn't.”
TPLF fought Eritrea in a deadly war between 1998 and 2000, eventually signing a peace accord in Algiers. The two countries remained enemies until Dr Abiy came to power in 2018.
Despite running the government for many years, the TPLF represented an ethnic community that was just about seven percent of the country's population of 110 million. The Ethiopian federal system based on ethnic communities worked in TPLF’s favour, ensuring regions have some form of autonomy. But critics said TPLF also marginalised other communities and brutally silenced those who had divergent opinion of government.
Dr Abiy said he encountered resistance from the day he took power in April 2018, including TPLF giving him false intelligence about where to go and where not to go, and imposing their security guards against his will.
In June 2018, the prime minister was in a public place in Addis when a grenade went off, which was seen as an assassination attempt. Last year in June, Ethiopian military chief Gen Seare Mekonnen was assassinated in what was seen as a plot to take over power by force.
“The day I was sworn in as Prime Minister, the security sector, then controlled by the TPLF clique, refused the entry of my own chosen security detail to the office and my residence. I was told you can only use our security personnel.
“I did not have the liberty to decide for myself, what was I to do? The security sector was not even an institution, they were just family members gathered in one place,” Dr Abiy added, saying there had been many mini governments within the federal government, interfering with decisions including freeing political prisoners.