Ethiopian military says only combatants hit in Tigray air strike

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People gather as victims arrive at Ayder Referral Hospital, in Mekelle, after an airstrike in Togoga, Ethiopia's Tigray region June 22, 2021. Picture taken June 22, 2021. Tigray Guardians 24 via REUTERS

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ADDIS ABABA, June 24 (Reuters) - Only combatants, not civilians, were struck in an air strike this week in Ethiopia's Tigray region, the country's military spokesman said on Thursday.

Colonel Getnet Adane told Reuters in an interview in Addis Ababa that the combatants in the town of Togoga were dressed in civilian clothes.

An air strike killed at least 43 people in the town on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters. The strike took place after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of the regional capital Mekelle. read more

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A resident of the town told Reuters on Wednesday that the air strike a day earlier had hit a market in the town west of Mekelle at around 1 p.m. That resident also said that her 2-year-old daughter had been injured in the attack.

The military spokesman said the combatants were not inside the market, but had gathered in the town to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of another town in Tigray, Hawzen, in 1988. That attack, by Ethiopia's then-ruling Communist leaders, killed hundreds of people and is widely commemorated in Tigray.

The spokesman said he did not have the death toll from the strike but that it would come soon.

The military has been battling forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the region's former ruling party, since November. Fighting has displaced 2 million people, and the United Nations has warned of a possible famine.

Asked about children injured in Tuesday's attack, the spokesman said the TPLF uses propaganda and is known for faking injuries. He also said that doctors quoted by the media are not "real doctors".

The remarks were the first acknowledgement by the military of the air strike, which came after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of Tigray's regional capital Mekelle.

Previously, Getnet, the military spokesman, had declined to confirm or deny the incident, saying air strikes were a common military tactic and that government forces do not target civilians.

The air strike took place as Ethiopian officials counted ballots from national and regional parliamentary elections held this week in seven of the nation's 10 regions.

No voting was held in Tigray, and security concerns and problems with ballot papers also delayed voting in two other regions.

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Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Alex Richardson

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