Ethiopia’s opposition parties have blamed federal army troops for killing at least 52,000 people during a military offensive in the country’s northern Tigray region.

A further 3 million have been forced to flee their homes and even more are dependent on food aid, the Tigray Independence Party, National Congress of Great Tigray and Salsay Weyane Tigray said in a joint statement.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, swiftly rebutted those claims after the statement was published saying, “The enemies of the state are spreading misinformation.” The parties’ death toll estimate hasn’t been independently verified as the federal army has blocked access to the region.

“Towns and villages have been demolished by blind artillery shelling, our health and educational facilities have been looted and destroyed,” the opposition groups said in the emailed statement. They called on the Ethiopian government to end the war, start negotiations and ensure access for humanitarian aid.

Moreover, the United Nations says more than 20,000 refugees are missing after government troops destroyed camps that were hosting those fleeing the conflict in Tigray.

Ethiopian federal troops began an incursion into Tigray on November 4 and toppled the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which had set itself in opposition to Abiy since he came to power in April 2018. Though the government officially announced an end to hostilities on November 28, aid groups and independent journalists have been repeatedly denied access to the area.

The TPLF have also vowed to continue fighting, echoing fears of a similar guerilla war that was fought by Eritreans before they gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991.

Reports on civilian casualties are “unsubstantiated and suffer from unfortunate political motives,” the government-run Ethiopia State of Emergency Fact Check said on its Twitter account Wednesday.

“The figure given for those in need of aid is higher than Tigray’s estimated population, so it’s likely that the number of civilian fatalities is also significantly inflated by the three parties,” said William Davison, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

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