The former ruling party in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray is committed to “extended resistance”, according to an audio message purporting to be from its leader, who accused federal government forces and their allies of rape and looting.
The comments attributed to Debretsion Gebremichael would be his first in public or via media since early December.
The recording was posted on Facebook by a media outlet affiliated with the former ruling party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has battled the government since November 4.
“They (the federal government) have temporary military dominance,” said the recording, alleging abuses like rape and looting, reports of which have also been highlighted by the United Nations.
“We are engaged in extended resistance.”
Reuters could not verify the audio’s authenticity or date.
Asked to comment, Billene Seyoum, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said: I “cannot to speak to the delusions of a criminal clique’s Facebook page.”
The TPLF and foreign backers have sought to divert attention with unfounded genocide claims since November to cover up their own “horrendous crimes”, she said, urging foreign nations and media to expose them.
Abiy claimed victory in late November after his forces captured the regional capital Mekelle, but reports of low-level fighting have continued.
Thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands have been forced from homes and there are shortages of food, water and medicine across the region of more than 5 million people.
“The cities and rural areas of Tigray are being bombarded day and night by heavy artilleries,” Debretsion said.
Reports from all sides are difficult to verify since the government has largely sealed off Tigray from media and foreign aid workers. Telecommunications to many areas are not working.
Debretsion called on Tigrayans abroad to contribute time and money to supporting the fighters and foreign nations to condemn the Ethiopian government, saying Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki should be charged in an international court.
Dozens of eyewitnesses have said Eritrean troops are present in Tigray to support Ethiopian forces, though both nations deny that.
Abiy’s government says the TPLF provoked the conflict by attacking army bases in Tigray and that the government is sending aid.
On Sunday, state-affiliated broadcaster Fana reported that the government was establishing a taskforce to investigate heightened concern over violence against women in Tigray.
Minister of Women, Children and Youth Filsan Abdullahi was quoted as saying the government had a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of sexual violence.