LEADER of the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) Debretsion Gebremichael has issued a call to arms via a radio message sent to a party-affiliated media organisation over the weekend.
“We are engaged in extended resistance,” he said, calling on his people to fight against Ethiopian government forces accused of a litany of crimes, including rape and murder, since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in November.
“The cities and rural areas of Tigray are being bombarded day and night by heavy artilleries,” Mr Gebremichael said.
“I call upon you, wherever you are … to strive to make all who have reached fighting age take up the fight, and through this to shorten the lifespan of the enemy.”
The authenticity of the recording has not been independently verified but Kjetil Tronvoll, an expert on the TPLF, said he believed the recording was genuine.
Spokeswoman for Mr Abiy, Billene Seyoum, refused to comment on the recording, saying: “I cannot to speak to the delusions of a criminal clique’s Facebook page,” referring to the platform on which the speech was aired.
A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Tigray, whose population of five million has been cut off to aid agencies amid warnings of starvation and medical shortages.
Last week the UN raised concerns over “disturbing” reports of sexual violence and abuse in the restive northern state, including allegations of individuals being forced to rape members of their own family.
“Some women have also reportedly been forced by military personnel to have sex in exchange for basic commodities,” UN spokeswoman Pramila Patten said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet has also warned that Tigrayans, including those in the Ethiopian capital, are being ethnically profiled.
The Ethiopian government issued warrants for 60 leaders of the TPLF in November.
A number have been killed, including former TPLF spokesman Sekuture Getachew and former finance chief Daniel Assefa.
Former Ethiopian foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin was among those who died in clashes earlier this month, but Mr Gebremichael’s whereabouts are unknown.
In the radio broadcast the TPLF leader called on the international community to hold Mr Abiy to account for war crimes, as well as President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, who is accused of sending troops into Tigray.
He called on Tigrayans living abroad to send money to support those fighting against government forces.