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Ethiopian leader says assault on rebel bastion in Tigray ready to begin

Thursday November 26, 2020

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced Thursday that the final operation to take the capital of the rebellious Tigray province could now begin after a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender had expired.

Ethiopia’s military intervened in the rugged northern province after local forces there attacked an army base and made off with military equipment on Nov. 3, sparking a three-week military campaign that has seen federal forces take over much of Tigray.

With communications to the province cut it was impossible to verify whether the military operation against the regional capital of Mekele had actually begun. Government forces said they had surrounded the city of 500,000 from a distance of 30 miles away.

“The Ethiopian National Defence forces have now been directed to conclude the third and final phase of our rule of law operation,” said the statement from the prime minister’s office. “We call on the people of Mekele and its environs to disarm, stay at home and stay away from military targets, and take all necessary precautions.”

The government campaign is against the political party controlling the province, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which once dominated the coalition that ruled the country for nearly 30 years. With the rise of Abiy, they retreated to their power base in Tigray and in recent months relations with the central government have declined dramatically.

The Ethiopian government has insisted its quarrel is only with the TPLF and not against the Tigrayan people and said the grace period was for the local forces to surrender.

“The last peaceful gate which had remained open for the TPLF clique to walk through has now been firmly closed as a result of TPLF’s contempt for the people of Ethiopia,” the statement added.

In messages to media outlets, the TPLF leadership has insisted that government forces have suffered several defeats. The Ethiopian government has countered by reporting widespread surrenders among TPLF forces.

There has been widespread international concern about the ongoing campaign and calls for mediation that have been rejected by Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has said the operation is an internal matter.

At least 40,000 refugees have fled the fighting into neighboring Sudan and there have been reports of hundreds of civilians massacred. The U.N. refugee agency has warned that a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding in Tigray and there are fears that food may be running out in this province of 6 million.


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