Honorable Members of Parliament,
I want to thank you for giving me another opportunity to answer some of your questions. Your questions touch on our internal politics, peace and security and I will make an attempt to elaborate on these matters.
On the Law & Order Operation
There are some that say war is necessary to bring peace; that war is necessary to bring justice; that war is necessary to preserve sovereignty. They provide all types of different rationales for why war might sometimes be a good thing. War, however, whether in its planning stages, in the height of battle, or in its aftermath doesn't benefit anyone. If there is one thing it's useful for, its to demonstrate why one should not start a war in the first place. Once a war has begun, only death, looting, and destruction inevitably follow. At its very spirit war is driven by hate, fear, and suspicion casting a very dark shadow on a society.
If you recall, this is the very reason that I said to this parliament at the turn of the new year, that the people of Tigray don't even deserve to hear the sound of bullets. They've suffered enough. I said this to the public, to this parliament, and even privately reached out to leaders of the TPLF to no avail. Bullets are useless. Once they are fired and war has started it’s only followed by destruction, looting, rape, and propaganda. The best solution is not to enter war in the first place. Once a war has begun, everyone’s attention turns to advancing on the enemy territory and attacking their positions while the basic needs of citizens get compromised.
Despite the TPLF's 27 year record of indiscriminate killing, looting, and destruction, recall not too long ago I had stood before this very parliament and pleaded with the Ethiopian public to forgive their sins so that our country can collectively move forward and look to the future. The Ethiopian people, to their credit, accepted and had let bygones be bygones despite the blood that had been shed at the hands of this group.
I had spoken to TPLF key leaders, spokespeople, repeatedly. I had begged them. Even when that was not successful I gathered 50 of the most influential people in Addis Ababa and called them in secret to mediate with the leaders of the TPLF. I said please convince these guys they are headed to a mistake, they will not be able to win against Ethiopia. Not just that, if they are interested in going to war, we had warned them they will soundly be defeated. We are not fighting a small-scale militia war and I told them that before the war.
Everyone that returned always felt sorry for me. You can’t touch the guys there, they can do whatever they want, and they look at the ones here as impotent, they use to tell me to be careful. They used to say maybe you should think twice about this. There was no one that thought there could be danger coming from their side. One country’s ambassador (I won’t mention his name), before the conflict went to Mekelle and spoke with Debretsion to beg him to de-escalate the situation. To tell him that this conflict is unnecessary. The answer he told him is don’t worry about it, we don’t need more than two or three weeks, and we will negotiate with them after we defeat them.
Pride is a very dangerous thing. The saying pride comes before a fall is absolutely true. This doesn’t just apply to TPLF, those of us who are still politicians need to guard ourselves against pride. This principle applies equally to everyone.
TPLF’s preparations were all military shows, armaments, etc … When we told them please rethink this, if we begged, they wouldn’t relent. They bragged about their tales of war, as if it’s a good thing, saying this is our cultural game, our drama. War cannot be a drama for anybody. For anybody. All it does is take lives. Even for a single person who is affected, many other families are affected due to their relationship with him. It brings sorrow. It’s completely unnecessary.
That’s why I took pains to beg them even to the point where some of you started murmuring that my government is appeasing them too much, when are they going to take action and started criticizing. It was always possible to take action, but I knew all that would happen is people would die; destroy wealth; we know how much economic damage that we incurred from this conflict.
The biggest tragedy about TPLF’s desire to go to war is that for the past 20 years, while TPLF was in power, 1.8 million people in Tigray region were on the Safety Net program. And even from that program, they would deduct some amounts. For example if there were 5 kilos allocated they would give 4, if 3, they would give 2, but all in all its in the Safety Net program. Then tack on to this the Coronavirus; then add the locusts; then add to this that farmers didn’t harvest their goods; No responsible person would start a war in these circumstances. Even if there were deep grievances, they should have selected a better time.
The entire leadership was composed of preachers of war, confrontation peddlers, war analysts, and wanted to enlarge the scope of the war to include other parties. Not only that they started saying that if they were touched the Horn of Africa would get destroyed. They believed this and have convinced the international community as well. By the way the Europeans and Americans actually believe this.
Let me be clear, the only way the Horn of Africa will slide into chaos is only after the people of Tigray get injured, the people of Amhara get injured, the people of Oromo get injured. There will be no way that others will get into chaos without you getting into chaos first. Do you think everything stopped here?
Many knowing what has reached us. The TPLF attacked 200 places at a time on the Northern Command. It was a very organized campaign. We have arrested more than 7000 perpetrators. When we first seized Mekelle, we didn’t have 1000 in our hands. They were captured by the TPLF.
Things didn’t stop here. Who started attacking the Amhara region. Who hit the Amhara region and invited them? Who is the one that shot rockets on Eritrea?
People talk about infrastructure damage today. How do you justify attacking Gonder & Bahir Dhar airport? We didn’t hit Axum or Mekelle airport while we were fighting in Tigray. We only used rockets after they went to the Mekelle desert even though we had it. They destroyed the infrastructure.
This is not it. Just in Mekelle, they released 10,000 prisoners. In the entirety of Tigray 30,000 prisoners have been released. We don’t know this number. They steal, their militia loots, some of our folks cause damage. Even if the TPLF is the cause of all of this the people are bearing the brunt of the suffering.
The people living on 1.8 million safety net did not deserve this. The force they had and their drunkenness on their power and blood brought them more.
We have three objectives in the law and order operation:
First, it’s to bring justice to the thousands of soldiers that the TPLF massacred. We said we will bring them to justice. We didn’t kill them just because they are captured.
Second, we need to free all our prisoners which they released.
Third, it’s to provide a stable interim administration.
On the first objective we have captured a lot of fugitives. There are people that try to tie this objective with the military operation. Note that AfghanistanOn the second objective we have freed 100% of our prisoners. We have buried the dead. We have reclaimed our armaments. Third, we are stabilizing the Interim administration until the elections. I want to note to this guys that there is not an Amhara or Oromo that is part of this interim administration. The people of Tigray have the right to administer themselves.
Not just this, we tried all we could so that we couldn’t damage. Even after we captured Axum Tsion Mariam was celebrated.
There are problems that are coming when new provocations are coming from.
It’s important to look at the weapon war. If you look at the Iraq war there were more than 60% civilian casualties. In Afghanistan there were 30% civilian casualties. The best solution for this is not to start a conflict.
TPLF sheltered religious stations, because it wanted.
I want to be clear, to everybody, TPLF is like a dust that has been scattered into the air. Even if we wanted to, we can’t regather them into an entity.
What needs to be done now. Even if they came back and wanted to be a leader again who is going to believe them. Who is going to trust them not just because their look is messed up.
This reminds me of Colonel Mengistu.
On Human Rights Violations
There are reports that violations have been place. Ignore the propaganda but there are credible reports. I just spent an entire week discussing this with leaders of the army. We said attack the TPLF not civilians. I want you to be aware that a lot of our causes of conflict today arise from post-war civilian atrocities committed generations ago. Attacking civilians will cause deep psychological distress. We need our troops to operate with upmost ethics. We will promote the honorable and bring to justice violators. There is a lot of propaganda, yet even if there is a single violation we’ll take action. We expect there to be a difference between Ethio Human Rights and our Attorney General’s Office.
This being still, people are selective in the way they look at human rights. All those calling and shouting about human rights. They don’t mention a thing about the attack on the Northern Command. Our soldiers were run over by cars. How do you use your left eye to look at …
The Maikadra massacre was an organized massacred of citizens in their own country. People don’t care about it. All they care about is what happened. There is no violation that reaches the scale of MaiKadra.
Even the attacks on the Bahir Dar and Gondar airport still requires fixing. It requires billions from us. We know an entire family that was killed from the attack. No one cares about them.
Let’s leave Tigray, let’s go to the attack on Metekel Zone. No one speaks about them. They don’t have money, … The fact that all the noise in one end doesn’t reflect that everything is in Tigray. Our citizens are equal. We should care about all of them.
On Humanitarian Aid
After the end of the operation, we have fed 4.2 million citizens. Our goal was 3 million people. 4.2 million once we fed we set up more than 92 stations. If we are capable of feeding 4.2 million people in 2 months it shows how capable we are.
Everyone tweets concerns about Ethiopia. The people were fed. The people of Tigray don’t eat Twitter concerns they eat wheat. We have covered more than 70%. We have spent more than $1 billion. We have repaired airport, water, … If we didn’t do all this we would have been to manage the inflation our country is facing.
We feed our people, the international community voices empty twitter concerns. Even if this wasn’t bad TPLF remnants are attacking aid workers. Now the TPLF forces look like civilians. They destroy the telephone and light infrastructure we just repaired.
We want to thank all the other regions who have made efforts to help the Tigray region. We need to have the people of Tigray and diaspora to help their people instead of using the money to lobby.
On Eritrean Troops
Let’s touch the issue of Eritrean troops. First think what people need to know. All our friends and foes. After Ethiopia had its soldiers attacked and the way Eritrean government welcomed our soldiers we’re forever thankful.
I want you guys to be attentive to the fact that on danger day no one will sit next to you. Let alone a person, your own shadow disappears in the dark. And we’ll never forget this. No one or activist will cause us to forget this.
However, after that time, we don’t welcome any civilian casualties caused by Eritrean troops. This is not because the troops are Eritrean, we will not welcome it from our troops.
We have discussed the issue at least five times with the government of the area. They say that you have left the trenches and the TPLF has invited us by throwing rockets. Now as you are going to central Tigray to search for the remnants, it's a national security imperative for us to guard these places.
Secondly, we told them about looting, and other casualties. The Eritrean government said if there is any we will take action immediately.
Once the operation is done and we can guard our neighbor this setup will not be necessary. As far as violations are concerned we are setting up a forum to discuss it. We will fix the issues earlier.
However, I am concerned about my health. We can’t both protect ourselves from Eritrea and while our backs are being attacked. We need to first fix those that fix that are hitting us at the back. We can’t do everything at the same time. We cannot continue to guard the Eritrean border as we are dispersed.
The Eritrean government said our future is intertwined with Ethiopia and the people of Tigray and we are collectively addressing this. We do not want any attacks on our people. We need to look at the whole picture. The Ethiopian defense forces has a finite resource.