Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has for the first time admitted that atrocities were committed during the military offensive in the northern Tigray region.
“Reports indicate that atrocities have been committed in Tigray region,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in an address before MPs in the capital, Addis Ababa.
He said soldiers who were found to have raped women or committed other war crimes would be held responsible.
The Ethiopian leader also said in his first public acknowledgment that troops from neighbouring Eritrea were present in the conflict and suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.
“Eritrean people and government did a lasting favour to our soldiers”, during the conflict, he said.
“However, after the Eritrean army crossed the border and was operating in Ethiopia, any damage it did to our people was unacceptable.”
Abiy’s admission comes after months of denial from Ethiopia and Eritrea and days after the UN said it had agreed to Ethiopia’s request for a joint investigation into allegations of human rights abuses in Tigray.
War is “a nasty thing,” Abiy said, speaking the local Amharic language. “We know the destruction this war has caused.”
But he also cited “propaganda of exaggeration” by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the once-dominant party whose leaders challenged Abiy’s legitimacy after the postponement of elections last year.
Abiy also said fighters loyal to the TPLF had committed a massacre in the town of Mai Kadra, calling it the “worst” in the conflict, but said that it did not get enough attention.
Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced after Ethiopia’s government led a military campaign against the TPLF in November last year.
Humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people might be starving to death in Tigray.
On March 11, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as “ethnic cleansing”. But authorities in Ethiopia rejected the accusations and called them “propaganda” statements.