Nearly 100 Ethiopian soldiers have been treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital in the northern Amhara region, a medical official said Sunday, pointing to intense fighting in the country’s internal conflict.
The toll comes as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and military leaders tout Ethiopian soldiers’ successes against forces loyal to the ruling party in the northern Tigray region, where Abiy ordered military operations last week.
A communications blackout in Tigray makes official statements on the conflict difficult to verify, yet on roads in the northern part of Ethiopia’s Amhara region — south of Tigray — ambulances can frequently be seen ferrying wounded combatants to hospitals.
In the town of Sanja, 98 government soldiers have been treated for “gunfire” injuries, a doctor told AFP.
“We have had 98 cases. All of them are soldiers from the national army,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The doctor said there were no fatalities at the hospital, but noted that more serious cases had been transported to larger hospitals in the city of Gondar and elsewhere.
Fears are mounting over the prospect of civil war after Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner sent federal troops and aircraft into Tigray in a major escalation of a long-running feud.
– ‘Four towns captured’ –
Abiy has ordered air strikes on military assets in the regional capital, Mekele, while warning more would be on the way and urging civilians to avoid gatherings so as to avoid “collateral damage”.
A UN advisory distributed Sunday morning reported an “ongoing air strike in Mekele” close to the airport, with an update specifying “there was only one strike heard and the related ripost [sic] from the ground”.
A UN source told AFP Saturday that an internal security report said Tigrayan forces held Ethiopia’s Northern Command headquarters in Mekele.
The key base is one of the most heavily armoured in the country, a legacy of Ethiopia’s war with neighbouring Eritrea which borders Tigray.
A state media report Sunday quoted deputy army chief Berhanu Jula saying federal forces had “fully destroyed the heavy weaponries of the traitorous clique”, a reference to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional ruling party.
Berhanu also said federal forces had “completely captured” four towns in western Tigray, where much of the fighting has reportedly been concentrated.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated politics in Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018 on the back of anti-government protests.
A long-running feud between the two camps became more intense after Tigray held its own elections in September, defying Abiy’s government which had decided to postpone national polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.