ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – Ethiopia won on Saturday in its conflict with the troubled region of Tigray after an all-day series of artillery strikes against the regional capital, a city of half a million.
By stopping communication, there was no way to confirm the government’s claim on its own, and during the day, Tigray’s leadership vowed to show strong resistance to the government’s attack.
The shooting of the city, Mekelle, was carried out two days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the start of the final phase of an operation to remove the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front from the northern state, until recently the ruling power in the national government.
On Saturday night, the Ethiopian state broadcaster reported that Mekelle was now “under the control” of the central government and that the city’s federal forces were “searching all the suspicious areas that the junta could hide,” referring to the TPLF.
“I am pleased to share that we have completed and completed military operations in the Tigray region,” Mr Abiy said. Saturday night on Twitter. “We are now focusing on rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance while the federal police grasp the TPLF click.”
Earlier on Saturday, TPLF leadership, whose decades-long political and economic influence had waned significantly since Mr. Abiy took office in 2018, vowed not to surrender and called on local citizens to oppose the military.
“We are fighting for our right to self-determination and self-control,” TPLF chief Debretsion Gebremichael said in an SMS on Saturday, confirming the city’s heavy shooting all day.
“Abiy will not be able to arrest TPLF members,” he said. – They will die with their faith. Let me in? You have to understand that we will continue to fight while they are on our land.
Even if the government controls control of the capital, analysts have warned that his army could still face a long and brutal guerrilla war against the TPLF, which has a large and heavily armed militia.
“Abiy’s tweet about the ‘cessation of military operations in Tigray’ is ‘getting old’,” a Western diplomat predicted in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Late Saturday night, Mr. Debretsion, head of TPLF, said in an SMS, “The fight with the invaders continues.” He added: “Mostly on our initiative.”
Prior to Saturday’s shooting, many Mekelle residents began fleeing to the countryside, fearing they could get into a crossfire in battle between the central government and the local ruling party,
There were no immediate reports of casualties or specific targets in Saturday’s offensive. Due to the blockade of access to the region, there have been few reliable reports on the impact of the fighting since Mr Abiy began the military offensive just over three weeks ago.
According to the United Nations, some 40,000 refugees from the region have moved to neighboring Sudan, and hundreds of people are reported to have died in the fighting.
The central government’s military operation in the Tigray region began on November 4 after Mr Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking the government’s defense position and trying to steal artillery and military equipment.
According to the TPLF, its forces moved cautiously after taking over strategic military assets after federal army units moved north in the pre-conflict days.
The two sides have been embroiled in a long-running turmoil that escalated in September when Tigray held parliamentary elections, despite being postponed by the central government due to the coronavirus epidemic. In October, Ethiopian lawmakers cut federal funding for the region as punishment.
International aid teams and the United Nations have been disappointed by the lack of access to the region to deliver aid.
Catherine Sozi, the UN coordinator in Ethiopia, said aid workers returning in recent days had testified that the humanitarian situation was “still serious”.
“There is no cash, no fuel, no telecommunications,” Ms Sozi said, adding that access to health care, food and clean water is still an issue for the people of Tigray.
The central government said on Thursday it would begin delivering its own aid in areas under federal control. “The reinforced stocks are currently arriving in areas controlled by the alliance,” said Billene Seyoum, the prime minister’s spokesman.
Mr Abiy, the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, who promised to transform his country by ending decades of repression and opening up the economy, has so far resisted the call for international mediation of the conflict.
The 55-nation African Union has appointed former presidents of Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and South Africa’s Kgalema Motlanthe to mediate the crisis.
The three envoys held talks with Mr Abiy on Friday, during which he refused to back down.
Mr Abiy “expressed the federal government’s responsible responsibility for upholding the rule of law in the region and across the country,” his office said in a statement issued after the Addis Ababa talks. “Failure to do so would nurture a culture of impunity that would have devastating costs for the country’s survival.”
Under the leadership of the TPLF, forces in neighboring Eritrea joined the central government in attacking Mekelle.
“Today, the forces of Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki bombed Mekelle’s densely populated city center and infrastructure with heavy artillery,” he reported, citing the president of Eritrea, the state broadcaster of Tigray. “Airstrikes were also held at several locations in Mekelle.”
Mr Abiy’s government denied that Eritrean troops had played any role in the conflict.
There is growing international concern that the turbulence could spread to other troubled regions of Ethiopia, which has more than 110 million people. In neighboring Somalia, Ethiopian peacekeepers belonging to the Tigray ethnic group were locked up in their barracks and disarmed.
In Washington, the African political leader of the State Department condemned the violence in the Tigray region.
“The fighting and shooting in Mekele is a matter of great concern,” Tibor P. Nagy, an assistant secretary of state for Africa, said in a Twitter message on Saturday. “We urge an immediate end to the conflict and the restoration of peace in Tigray. Civilians must be protected and humanitarian access must be provided to help those in need. “
Eric Schmitt contributed to Washington.