Ethiopian army says only fighters were hit in airstrike in Tigray
By Ayenat Mersie
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Only fighters, not civilians, were affected in an airstrike this week in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the country’s military spokesman said on Thursday.
Colonel Getnet Adane told Reuters in an interview in Addis Ababa that fighters in the town of Togoga were dressed in civilian clothes.
An airstrike killed at least 43 people in the city on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters. The strike came after residents said more fighting had broken out in recent days north of the regional capital Mekelle.
A town resident told Reuters on Wednesday that the previous day’s airstrike hit a market in the town west of Mekelle at around 1 p.m. The resident also said her 2-year-old daughter was injured in the attack.
The military spokesman said the fighters were not inside the market, but had gathered in the town to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of another town in Tigray, Hawzen, in 1988. This attack, carried out by the then ruling Communist rulers in Ethiopia, left hundreds of people dead and is widely commemorated in Tigray.
The spokesperson said he did not have the record of the strike but that it would come soon.
The army has been fighting forces loyal to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, since November. The fighting has displaced 2 million people and the United Nations has warned of possible famine.
Asked about the children injured in Tuesday’s attack, the spokesperson said the TPLF uses propaganda and is known to fake injuries. He also specified that the doctors quoted by the media are not “real doctors”.
The remarks were the military’s first recognition of the airstrike, which came after residents said more fighting had broken out in recent days north of Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle.
Previously, Getnet, the military spokesman, had refused to confirm or deny the incident, saying airstrikes were a common military tactic and government forces were not targeting civilians.
The airstrike came as Ethiopian officials counted the ballots for the national and regional parliamentary elections held this week in seven of the country’s ten regions.
No votes were held in Tigray, and security concerns and ballot issues also delayed voting in two other regions.
(Reporting by Ayenat Mersie, Editing by Maggie Fick, Editing by Alex Richardson and Peter Graff)