Three opposition parties in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region estimate that more than 50,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict.
No official death toll has emerged since the fighting began in early November when Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a ground and air offensive to oust the region’s ruling TPLF party.
This happened after TPLF troops captured federal military bases, but the three opposition parties say it was because Tigray defied federal authorities to go ahead to hold local elections in September – won by the TPLF.
“Towns and villages have been demolished by blind artillery shelling, our health and educational facilities have been looted and destroyed… our religious institutions have also been attacked and their sacred possessions plundered,” a joint press release by the Tigray Independence Party, Salsay Weyane Tigray and the National Congress of Great Tigray said.
The government declared victory in Tigray after a month, but fugitive TPLF leaders vowed to continue the fight.
The three opposition parties said violence was continuing: “Extra-judicial killings and gang rape have become every day practices of the aggressors.”
They also cited a higher than previously estimated number of those who had fled their homes in Tigray. They said three million were internally displaced, 150,000 had moved to other Ethiopian regions and tens of thousands had gone to Sudan.
They said 6.5 million people were in urgent need of humanitarian aid and deaths because of hunger had started.
“It should be noted that this hunger is man-made as we are aware that more than 4.8 million livestock have been butchered and raided, crops in fields have been burned and almost everything invading forces found in Tigrayan homes has been looted,” they said.
“The Ethiopian government is using hunger as a weapon to subdue Tigray.”
The parties called for the international community to do more as they feared the looming humanitarian disaster of biblical proportion could become a reality.
They also called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops, federal forces, ethnic Amhara militias and regional police special forces.
The Eritrean and Ethiopian governments have previously denied that Eritrean troops are involved in the conflict.
It has not been possible to assess the impact of war as the government has severely restricted access to the region.
On Monday the head of the UN refugee agency said the situation in Tigray was “extremely grave” and urged the government to stop restricting access for humanitarian agencies.