Ethiopia conflict: Military begins ‘final offensive’ against rebel forces in Tigray capital | World News
Ethiopia’s prime minister has said the army is moving in on the capital of the northern Tigray region after his 72-hour ultimatum for rebel leaders to lay down their arms expired.
Abiy Ahmed said government troops had been ordered to attack the regional capital, Mekelle, in a “final phase” of a law enforcement offensive, adding that the period for forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) “to surrender peacefully is now over”.
The 44-year-old PM, who has rejected efforts by international powers to bring the conflict in the north of the country to an end, said in a statement on Thursday that “great care will be given to protect innocent civilians from harm”.
“All efforts will be made to ensure that the city of Mekelle, which was built through the hard work of our people, will not be severely damaged,” he said, including heritage sites, places of worship, public facilities and dwellings.
He urged residents in the city of around half a million people to “stay at home and stay away from military targets” and to take “all necessary precautions”.
The PM claimed thousands of Tigray militia and special forces had surrendered during the 72-hour period.
“The last peaceful gate which had remained open for the TPLF clique to walk through have now been firmly closed,” he added.
Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been taken down in Tigray, a mountainous northern zone, cutting it off from the world.
It comes as the United Nations reported people fleeing the city and warned of “critical” shortages in the Tigray region as its population of six million remains sealed off.
More than one million people are now estimated to be displaced and food for nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea will be gone in a week, according to a new report released overnight.
Around 600,000 people who rely on monthly food rations haven’t received them this month.
In addition, the UN World Food Programme has been unable to obtain access to transport food from its warehouses in Mekelle due to the communication and travel blockages.
The conflict, a long-running power struggle between Addis Ababa and Tigray’s leaders, has spread beyond, with the TPLF firing rockets into both the neighbouring Amhara region and across the border to Eritrea.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been killed in fighting and air strikes that erupted on 4 November have sent about 40,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan.
Mr Abiy’s government has repeatedly said it is only targeting TPLF leaders and facilities to restore law and order after they rose up against federal troops. It denies hitting civilians.
The TPLF says Mr Abiy has “invaded” its region to dominate it and is inflicting “merciless” damage on Tigrayans.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters news agency in a text message on Monday: “We are people of principle and are ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region.”