'Stop the madness,' Tigray leader urges Ethiopia's PM

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Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament at the prime minister's office in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The fugitive leader of Ethiopia's defiant Tigray region on Monday called on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to withdraw troops from the region as he asserted that fighting continues "on every front" two days after Abiy declared victory. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

NAIROBI – The fugitive leader of Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray region on Monday called on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to “stop the madness” and withdraw troops from the region as he asserted that fighting continues “on every front” two days after Abiy declared victory.

Debretsion Gebremichael, in a phone interview with The Associated Press, said he remains near the Tigray capital, Mekele, which the Ethiopian army on Saturday said it now controlled. Far from accepting Abiy’s declaration of victory, the Tigray leader asserted that “we are sure we’ll win.”

He also accused the Ethiopian forces of carrying out a “genocidal campaign” against the Tigray people. With the Tigray region still cut off a month after the fighting began, no one knows how many people have been killed, and it's difficult to verify the warring sides' claims.

Each government regards the other as illegal after Abiy sidelined the once-dominant Tigray People's Liberation Front after taking office in early 2018.

The fight is about self-determination of the region of around 6 million people, the Tigray leader said, and it “will continue until the invaders are out.” He asserted that his forces held an undetermined number of “captives” among the Ethiopian forces, including the pilot of a fighter jet that his side claims to have shot down over the weekend.

The Tigray leader also asserted that his forces still have several missiles and “we can use them whenever we want,” though he rejected a question about striking at the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, saying the primary aim is to “clear Tigray from the invaders.” He again accused Abiy of collaborating with neighboring Eritrea in the offensive in Tigray, something the Ethiopian government has denied.

As for the idea of talks with the government, something Abiy has repeatedly rejected, the Tigray leader said that “depends on the content” and Ethiopian forces would first have to leave the region.

“Civilian casualties are so high,” he said, though he denied having any estimate of the toll. He accused Ethiopian forces of “looting wherever they go.”