Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Monday his government could easily recruit one million new fighters but wants to foster a period of “silence” in the country’s war-hit Tigray region.
The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s remarks came one week after Tigray’s capital Mekele fell to the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) rebel group and Abiy’s government declared a unilateral ceasefire in the eight-month-old conflict.
The TDF has described its seizure of Mekele and most of the rest of the northern region of Tigray as a major victory, while Abiy and other officials have countered that federal forces executed a strategic pullback to focus on other threats.
“In one, two or three weeks, 100,000 trained, armed and organised special forces can be mobilised,” Abiy told lawmakers.
“If said special force isn’t enough, if a militia is needed, in one or two months half a million militiamen can be organised. One million youths can be mobilised and trained.”
But Abiy also said officials had “decided there should be a period of silence for everyone to think”.
Tigrayan leaders on Sunday issued their first formal response to Abiy’s ceasefire call, saying they would only accept it if forces from Eritrea and Ethiopia’s Amhara region — who have been backing the Ethiopian army — also withdrew from the region.
They also called for “proceedings” to hold Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki accountable for “damage” inflicted during the fighting, which has been marked by grisly massacres and widespread sexual violence.
Abiy did not address those conditions Monday.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands face hunger in Tigray, an important economic and industrial region in the Horn of Africa nation.
Last week the TDF paraded what it said were thousands of captive Ethiopian soldiers through the streets of Mekele.
In his remarks Monday, however, Abiy said the TDF seized territory only because the army decided to leave, a process he said unfolded for more than a month.
He also offered fulsome praise for the army.
“Our defence forces are not paid enough. They climb up and down mountains. In the rain, in the sun they fight for the dignity of the country,” Abiy said.