U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed “alarm” Monday over reports that forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region have advanced into Dessie and Kombolcha, two towns in the neighboring Amhara region. 

“All parties must stop military operations and begin ceasefire negotiations without preconditions,” Blinken wrote in a Twitter post. 

The Ethiopian government accused the Tigrayan forces Monday of carrying out large-scale killings and destruction of property. 

“The terrorist [Tigray People’s Liberation Front] TPLF group has infiltrated into Kombolcha at night killing more than 100 young people,” the federal government’s spokesperson, Legesse Tulu, said in a statement posted on Fana Broadcasting Corporate, the state-owned media. 

“The terrorist group has destroyed private and public property in the cities of Dessie and Kombolcha,” the statement read in Amharic. 

VOA could not independently verify the government’s accusation. A request sent to Billene Seyoum, the prime minister’s spokeswoman, went unanswered.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency on a satellite phone from an undisclosed location, TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda denied government allegations that civilians were killed. He said Tigrayan forces “don’t have to kill the youth,” and that “there was no resistance in Kombolcha.” 

Gen. Tsadkan Gebretensae, a member of the Tigrayan forces’ central command, said Monday that the government isn’t giving Tigray any choice but to fight.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared to issue a general call to arms to the public, saying all Ethiopians should “march … with any weapon and resources they have to defend, repulse and bury the terrorist TPLF.”

“They [the federal government] are not giving us other opportunities,” Tsadkan said in an interview with Tigray TV, the regional state-owned media. “They want us to end this through war. So, it will end through war and obstacles that were in place to end this through war are clearing now.” 

The Oromo Liberation Army, or the OLA, another group fighting the federal government, claimed that it had seized the town of Kemise, located 53 kilometers south of Kombolcha. Both labeled by the government as terrorist groups, Tigrayan forces and the OLA have come together in the fight against the central government. 

The conflict that began in November 2020 between the federal government and TPLF has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions. The United Nations says about 2.5 million people have fled their homes, many seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Sudan. 

The U.N. has said more than 5 million people need humanitarian assistance but that it has not had access to Tigray for two weeks. “No convoys with humanitarian supplies have entered Tigray since 18 October. Fuel for the humanitarian response has not entered since early August,” said a report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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