A top official in the interim administration of Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region told AFP on Saturday he had fled the country and was seeking asylum, citing fears for his safety.
Gebremeskel Kassa served as chief of staff of the administration appointed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after the Nobel peace laureate sent troops into Tigray last November to topple the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Abiy said the move came in response to attacks on army camps by the TPLF, which had ruled Ethiopia for three decades until 2018.
During his time in Tigray, Gebremeskel was an outspoken critic of Eritrean forces fighting alongside Ethiopian soldiers in the region, calling for their withdrawal.
He also accused forces from the neighboring Amhara region of violently relocating many thousands of Tigrayans from western Tigray, where Washington says “acts of ethnic cleansing” have been committed.
Gebremeskel fled Tigray in late June after forces loyal to the TPLF retook most of the region including the capital Mekele.
In his request for asylum, reviewed by AFP, he said he was then summoned to meetings with top federal officials who blamed the interim government for the military setback.
“The accusation was unfair and unfounded as we were running a civilian administration,” the request says.
Gebremeskel asked that AFP not reveal the country in which he is seeking asylum for security reasons.
His asylum bid comes just over a week after security forces in Addis Ababa detained Abraha Desta, another senior official in the interim administration who had recently called for negotiations to end the conflict.
Gebremeskel told AFP that federal officials had long resisted entreaties from the interim administration to pursue talks, starting in December after TPLF forces had been driven out of Tigray’s cities and towns.
“They rejected that. They said ‘Already the TPLF army is completely destroyed,’ and they said, ‘With whom we are going to negotiate?’“ he recalled.
Gebremeskel spoke as Ethiopian troops were waging a new air and ground offensive against Tigrayan rebels in Amhara, an operation the TPLF has described as “massive.”
Hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray already face famine-like conditions, according to the UN, and Gebremeskel urged the international community to intervene to prevent further suffering.
“If this force (Ethiopia’s army) is able to penetrate into Tigray, that will be a catastrophe, and that will be a regrettable time for the international community,” he said.
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