Ethiopian federal forces have taken “full control” of the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle, according to the nation’s Prime Minister and the military’s chief of staff.
- Local media reported Mekelle was being “heavily bombarded”,
- The Ethiopian and Tigray governments each regard the other as illegal
- The fighting threatens to destabilise Ethiopia, described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa
Tigray TV reported the city was being “heavily bombarded”.
Authorities earlier said government forces were in the final stages of an offensive in the region in a quest to arrest the region’s defiant leaders.
Humanitarians said the shelling in Mekelle, a densely populated city of half a million people, had immediately raised concerns about civilian casualties.
Ethiopia’s Government had warned Mekelle residents there would be “no mercy” if they did not move away from the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in time.
The United Nations said some residents fled as the military closed in.
“The United States is gravely concerned about the worsening situation in the Tigray region,” the US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, wrote on Twitter after the reported bombardment began.
She called for dialogue, the protection of civilians and access for aid.
Communications to the Tigray region, home to about 6 million people, remain largely severed, making it difficult to verify claims by the warring sides in the conflict between Ethiopia’s Government and the TPLF, which once dominated the country’s ruling coalition but was sidelined under new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Each government regards the other as illegal and Mr Abiy has rejected calls for dialogue with the TPLF, most recently in his meeting with African Union envoys on Friday local time.
While the offensive on Mekelle has alarmed the international community, Mr Abiy’s Government says it will take care to avoid harming civilians in the tank-led assault.
Concern over consequences of conflict to the civilians
As Ethiopian forces moved in, Major General Hassan Ibrahim vowed to capture the city “on all fronts”.
“It is possible that some of the wanted people may go to their families or neighbouring areas and try to hide for few days,” he said in comments carried by the Ethiopian News Agency.
“But our armed forces, after seizing control of Mekelle city, will be tasked to hunt down and capture these criminals one by one wherever they may be.”
The Tigray region has been almost entirely cut off from the outside world since November 4, when Mr Abiy announced a military offensive in response to a TPLF attack on a military base.
Humanitarians say at least hundreds of people have been killed.
The fighting threatens to destabilise Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa.
With transport links cut, food and other supplies are running out in Tigray and the United Nations has asked for immediate and unimpeded access for aid.
Nearly 1 million people had been displaced in the region, the UN said in an update, citing local authorities.
The office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had “expressed his grave concern over the consequences of the Ethiopian conflict to the civilian population and over the spread of hate speech and reports of ethnic profiling”.
Multiple crises are growing. More than 43,000 refugees have fled for Sudan, where people struggle to give them food, shelter and care.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said hospitals in Tigray were running out of medicine and fighting near camps sheltering 96,000 Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia had put them in the line of fire.