Ethiopia’s Tigray disaster: PM declares assault on regional capital Mekelle

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he was starting the “final phase” of the army operation in Tigray with an attack on the regional capital, Mekelle.

He said the military will try not to harm the civilian population and urged people in the city to stay home.

It comes after a deadline he gave Tigray fighters to surrender on Wednesday.

The TPLF party that controls Mekelle has vowed to keep fighting.

Hundreds of people were reportedly killed and thousands displaced from their homes when Ethiopian forces seized various cities in Tigray from the TPLF.

However, details of the fighting are difficult to confirm as all telephone, mobile and internet communications with the Tigray region have been cut.

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Three African Union officials have arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to try to mediate talks, but Ethiopia has so far refused to mediate, stating that the conflict is an internal matter and that Mr Abiy’s government is on a law enforcement mission Tigray involved.

The three envoys are not allowed to travel to Tigray.

What did PM Abiy say?

He ordered the Ethiopian military to launch an offensive against Mekelle – a town with around 500,000 inhabitants – in the “third and final phase” of the federal government’s military campaign against the TPLF.

Mr Abiy said “great care” is being taken to protect civilians and “every effort” is being made to limit the harm to Mekelle.

Image rightsReutersImage descriptionIn Mekelle, a town of 500,000 people, vehicles are queuing for petrol

He urged people in and around Mekelle to disarm, stay at home and stay away from military targets.

Religious and historical sites, institutions and residential areas would not be targeted, he said.

How does the TPLF react?

The leader of the powerful regional party, Debretsion Gebremichael, said the Tigray forces were “ready to die in defense of our right to govern our region.”

The TPLF fighters, who come mainly from a paramilitary unit and a well-trained local militia, are believed to be around 250,000. Some analysts fear that this could lead to a guerrilla conflict.

Reuters quoted a diplomatic source as saying that the TPLF had “mobilized many people in Mekelle”. The person added, “They’re digging trenches and everyone has an AK-47 [rifle]. “

Media signature“We came with the clothes on our backs”

Human Rights Watch said both sides must protect civilians. It was concerned about reports that the TPLF had deployed forces in densely populated areas.

Aid groups fear that the conflict could trigger a humanitarian crisis and destabilize the Horn of Africa region. The United Nations has expressed concern about the prospect of major hostilities if the Ethiopian army attacks Mekelle and has warned of possible war crimes.

The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has accused a Tigrayan youth group of being behind a massacre earlier this month that killed more than 600 civilians.

The commission says the group stabbed, beaten and burned non-Tigrayan residents of the city of Mai-Kadra with the collusion of local forces.

However, the TPLF has refused to participate and has called for an independent international investigation.

Learn more about the Tigray crisis:

Media signatureThree consequences of the ongoing crisis in Tigray.

What is the fighting about?

The conflict is rooted in longstanding tensions between the Ethiopian central government and the TPLF, which was the dominant political force across the country until Mr Abiy came to power in 2018 and introduced a number of far-reaching reforms.

When Mr Abiy postponed a national election due to coronavirus in June, relations continued to deteriorate.

The TPLF said the central government mandate had expired, arguing that Mr Abiy had not been tested in a national election.

In September the party held its own elections, which the central government described as “illegal”.

Then, on November 4, the Ethiopian Prime Minister announced an operation against the TPLF and accused its armed forces of attacking the army’s northern command center in Mekelle.

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