In address to Parliament, Abiy explains the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict

Live: Ethiopian PM speaks on Tigray crisis

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Monday that national forces did not kill any civilians in Tigray, in what could be the latest accusation of mass murder on the part of TPLF fighters.

In a speech televised to the world, Dr Abiy told the Federal House of Representatives that the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) avoided civilian installations, including towns.

He spoke a day after announcing the end of military operations in the northern part of the country, targeting what he called the ''junta'' of the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

"Why would we strike Mekele? Mekele is ours. It's Ethiopia's. ENDF operate with utmost discipline and care for civilians."

The TPLF had already 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," Abiy said.

He told the audience that the ENDF opted not to destroy all tanks owned by the TPLF because they had stationed them in civilian quarters, endangering life.

Mai Kadra massacre Ethiopia

This photograph taken on November 21, 2020 shows abandoned beds used as stretchers to carry bodies, laying next to collective graves at a cemetery, of victims that were allegedly killed in the November 9, 2020 massacre, in Mai Kadra, Ethiopia.

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP

Sacred sovereignty

While the TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael announced on Sunday that the war would continue, Abiy used the speech to chide the front for past atrocities as well as to reiterate that the matter is largely an internal affair.

"We love to discuss … we hate wars. We begged…. we are known for peace,” he said.

"If you want to be friends with us, please understand us first. We have many years of experience, even more than most  countries. We may be poor but we are not a country that will negotiate our sovereignty. Threatening Ethiopia for coins will not work."

He went on: "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 Abiy came to power in 2018, he sought to dismantle their grasp on power.

In Parliament, he said the TPLF wanted to manipulate everything in its favour and went as far as pretending to be on his side.

"The impression that TPLF left when EPRDF decided to merge is a false narrative," 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."

Amhara Special Forces

Two members of the Amhara Special Forces with a member of the Amhara militia (L) stand at the border crossing with Eritrea where an Imperial Ethiopian flag waves, in Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. 

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP

Eritrea factor

TPLF fought Eritrea in a deadly war between 1998 and 2000, eventually signing a peace accord in Algiers. The two countries remained enemies until Abiy came to power in 2018.

Despite running the government for many years, the TPLF represented an ethnic community that was just about seven per cent of the country's population of 110 million.

The Ethiopian federal system, based on ethnic communities, worked in the TPLF favour, ensuring regions had some form of autonomy.

But critics charged that TPLF also marginalised other communities and brutally silenced those who had a divergent opinion of the government.

Abiy said he encountered stiffness from the day he took power in April 2018, including TPLF’s false intelligence about where to go and which locations to avoid, as well as imposing their security guards against his will.

Damaged tank near Humera in Ethiopia

A damaged tank stands abandoned on a road near Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. Military operations took place in Tigray in response to attacks on federal army camps by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP


In June 2018, Abiy was in a public place in Addis when a grenade went off, an incident that was seen as an assassination attempt.

Last June, Ethiopian military chief Gen Seare Mekonnen was assassinated in what was seen as a plot to take 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’,” he said.

"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.”

He said there have been many mini-governments within the federal government, hampering decisions, including freeing political prisoners.