Ethiopian forces want to encircle the capital of the breakaway region of Tigray with tanks. A shelling of the city of Mekelle, which has 500,000 inhabitants, is also possible to force a surrender, as a military spokesman said on Sunday. He called on the civilian population to get to safety. “After that there will be no more mercy,” he said on state radio.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) does not want to voluntarily give up its rule over the northern region. “Encircling Mekelle is their plan, but they have not yet been able to implement it,” TPLF boss Debretsion Gebremichael wrote in a text message to the Reuters news agency. “They couldn’t move an inch on the southern front for more than a week.”
According to their own statements, the Ethiopian military has captured a town not far from Mekelle. “Our defense forces have taken control of the city of Idaga Hamus,” announced a special unit on the short message service Twitter. “Defense forces are advancing to take Mekelle, which is the ultimate goal of the operation,” it said. Information from both parties to the conflict is difficult to verify, however, as telephone and internet communications have been down since the fighting began in early November.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate – accuses TPLF of instigating an armed uprising. The party, on the other hand, accuses Abiy of persecuting her and expelling her politicians from government and security posts. Abiy ordered the first air strikes in Tigray on November 4th. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have now been killed in the offensive. Many are also on the run.
The United Nations anticipates that up to 200,000 people will flee in Ethiopia’s neighboring country Sudan. Aid organizations are warning of a serious crisis in Tigray, where many of the approximately five million inhabitants were already dependent on food aid before the latest conflict. Ethiopia recently turned down a mediation offer from the African Union (AU). The AU had appointed three former presidents of the continent as special envoys.