Ethiopia admits carrying out airstrikes in Mekelle

Ethiopian soldiers

Ethiopian National Defence Forces soldiers shout slogans after finishing their training in the field of Dabat on September 14, 2021.

Photo credit: AFP

Just hours after fervent denials, Ethiopia has admitted to carrying out Monday's deadly airstrikes that hit two locations in Mekelle, the capital of the troubled northern Tigray region.

The Nation has learnt that at least three civilians were killed and eight others injured in the strikes that were confirmed by witnesses, residents, senior Tigray rebel officials and aid workers.

The government had initially denied reports that the Ethiopian air force had struck targets in Mekelle, the headquarters of TPLF, a rebel group fighting the Ethiopian national army and its allied regional forces in three regions in northern Ethiopia.

A senior government official immediately rubbished international media reports of the airstrikes as an "absolute lie".

"There is no reason or plan to strike civilians in Mekelle, which is a part of Ethiopia and home to our own citizens. This is an absolute lie," Legesse Tulu, head of the government communication service, told AFP news agency.

"It is a total and absolute lie of the TPLF junta, just to misguide the international community and create pressure on the Ethiopian state," he added.

However, Addis Ababa has now admitted carrying out the airstrikes, the government's first aerial attack in the populous Tigray city since conflict broke out last November.

The Ethiopian air force, in a statement later on Monday, said it had launched a "successful offensive" against the communication network and facility in Mekelle that was used by TPLF.

"The airstrike targeted the facilities that previously belonged to the federal government but were later used by the terrorist group in its destructive cases," it said.

The Ethiopian air force, in its statement, alleged that the airstrike had successfully hit a media facility that was once owned by state-affiliated media agency Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) and a communication tower that was under the country's intelligence agency, Information Network Security Agency (INSA).

It further said that "the airstrike was carried out with utmost precision to prevent civilian casualties".

The airstrikes are said to have targeted a busy market and a hotel where several international aid workers stay.

A TPLF senior official on Tuesday said that the latest attacks were indications that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is not willing to resolve the Tigray conflict through peaceful settlement but rather via military means.

"He is not someone who would willingly abandon his preferred choice of resolving differences through military means as long as he thinks he can get away with it.  He has never been for peace. Only the appropriate use of sticks can prod him into considering such (a) path," said Getachew Reda on his Twitter page.

Angered by the fresh attacks, some Tigrayans reacted on social media by calling on the international community and the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone in Tigray to avert civilian casualties.

They argued that dropping bombs on a known market day in Mekelle demonstrated the government's intention to "terrorise civilians and push Tigrayans to forcible submission".

The nearly one-year-long Tigray conflict has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and left about 5.2 million in need of emergency food assistance.

Ethiopia has declared that TPLF is a terrorist entity, but the group considers itself the legitimate government in Tigray.