Addis Ababa, 26 November (efe-epa) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed on Thursday that he ordered defence forces to take control the capital of the northern region of Tigray.
Ahmed has been conducting an armed offensive for three weeks against the region, and unsuccessfully issued them a 72-hour deadline to surrender.
“The Ethiopian Defence Forces have now been directed to conclude the third and final phase of our rule of law operations,” Ahmed detailed Thursday in a statement from his office, in which he also promised 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 continued.
Ahmed also directed the more than 400,000 residents of the capital to “stay at home and stay away from military targets.”
There has been longstanding tension between Tigray and the Ethiopian government, exacerbated by the indefinite postponement of general elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) ultimately held its own parliamentary elections in September, which the central government described as illegal and is now attempting to restore constitutional order in Tigray through force.
In the statement, the Ethiopian government also regretted that the TPLF, which governs the northern region, has not agreed to surrender, despite Ahmed’s claim that thousands of TPLF special forces and militias have already done so.
It is difficult to verify whether thousands of Tigrayans have indeed accepted the ultimatum, as both internet and telephone communications remain cut off and the government restricted access for journalists and aid workers trying to get to Tigray.
This military offensive looming over Mekelle could cause many more civilian casualties in a war that has already killed at least 600 people, according to an Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation.