Rebels fighting Ethiopia’s government on Sunday played down reports that they would face a hostile population or cause a “bloodbath” if they advanced into the capital city.
Several countries have urged their nationals to leave Ethiopia and the US has withdrawn diplomats as the year-long conflict in the north escalates.
Fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and their allies in the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have claimed several cities in recent weeks and have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.
The government, which has denied the capital is under threat, has nevertheless declared a state of emergency and local authorities have asked residents to organise to defend the city.
“The story that the population in Addis is vehemently opposed to us is absolutely overstated,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda told AFP in an interview on Saturday night.
“Addis is a melting pot. People with all kinds of interests live in Addis. The claim that Addis will turn into a bloodbath if we enter Addis is absolutely ridiculous.”
While the rebels would enter Addis Ababa to overthrow Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, he said taking the capital was not “an objective”.
He also said the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia’s politics for nearly 30 years, had no desire to take back power.
The TPLF overthrew the Marxist Derg regime in 1991 and ruled until 2018 when Abiy came to power.
After months of tension, Abiy sent the army into Tigray in November 2020 to remove the TPLF-led regional authorities, accusing them of attacking military bases.
He declared victory a few weeks later, but the conflict has rumbled on.
Last weekend, the TPLF said it had taken two strategic cities in Amhara region, months after its fighters retook their Tigray bastion.