The Ethiopian Prime Minister said that the Ethiopian Federal Police are searching for the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front after government soldiers entered Mekele, the provincial capital.
And Abiy Ahmed added that the takeover of the provincial capital was the “final stage” of the three-week conflict – and it is difficult to confirm the details as communications have been blocked.
Meanwhile, the leader of the TPLF pledged, in a statement to the media, to continue the fight.
Reportedly, hundreds have been killed in the conflict and thousands have been displaced.
The confrontations began earlier this month, after the Prime Minister announced an operation against the Front, accusing the Regional Party of attacking the headquarters of the Ethiopian army’s northern command in Mikkeli.
Ahmed described the leadership of the front as a “criminal gang” and said that the police “will bring them to court.”
A well-known source in Mikkeli told the BBC that federal soldiers were in the city and I heard sporadic gunfire on Sunday morning. He added that some residents fled earlier to the outskirts of the city.
Meanwhile, the US embassy in neighboring Eritrea said that six explosions were heard in the capital, Asmara, late on Saturday evening.
In the past, TPLF forces have fired rockets at Eritrea, which they accuse of supporting Ethiopian government forces in the weeks-long conflict. It is not clear if the recent events in Asmara are related to the fighting in Tigray.
What does the government say?
In a statement on Twitter, Abiy Ahmed said that the army is in full control of Mikeli and that this “represents a continuation of the recent (military) operation.”
“I am pleased to share with you that we have completed and stopped the military operations in the Tigray region,” he added.
Ahmed confirmed that the army released thousands of soldiers who had been detained by the front and that it was controlling the airport and regional offices, adding that the operation was carried out “with utmost respect for the citizens.”
There were concerns for the safety of the 500,000 people living in the city.
It is extremely difficult to confirm details from the region as telephone and internet lines were disrupted during the conflict.
How did the Tigray People’s Liberation Front respond?
In a text message to Reuters, the leader of the Tigrayan Liberation Front, Debarsion Gebremikail, did not comment directly on the situation on the ground, but said about government forces: “Their brutality increases our resolve to fight these invaders to the end.”
He added, “It is about defending our right to self-determination.”
The whereabouts of Gebremikail is still unknown.
“Fascist bombings have caused civilian deaths and injuries. The Tigray government has pledged that it will take retaliatory measures against the brutal bombings,” said a statement by the Front on the regional TV channel Tigray.
In its statement, the Front also accused the Eritrean government of involvement in the attack on Mikkeli.
Tigray TV and another station in the region have been suspended.
Analysts say the front may now be preparing to return to the mountains to wage a guerrilla war against the federal government.
What are the concerns In the humanitarian field؟
The United Nations has warned of possible war crimes if the Ethiopian army attacks Mikkeli.
It also expressed concern about the lack of access of humanitarian workers to the conflict area.
The Ethiopian authorities said Thursday that a “humanitarian access road”, supervised by the government, would be opened, adding that it was “committed to working with United Nations agencies … to provide protection for civilians and those who need it.”
Also on Thursday, Ethiopian forces deployed along the Tigray border with Sudan, to prevent those fleeing the violence from leaving the country, according to the refugees.
In its most recent statement, issued on Saturday, the United Nations said that more than 40,000 Ethiopians have crossed the border since the fighting began in early November.
In his report following a visit to West Tigray, Wilson Mondal of the International Committee of the Red Cross said that in Dansha he met people “living in a makeshift camp without food, water or medical care.”
He added, “They told us that they feared for their lives, and they wanted a safe passage to get out of the area.”
The state-appointed Human Rights Commission in Ethiopia accused a youth group from Tigray of being behind this month’s massacre, saying that more than 600 civilians, not from Tigrayans, were killed in the town of Mai Kadra. The Front denied involvement in the accident.
At Friday’s meeting, the prime minister told the African peace envoys that civilians would be protected.
Who is the Liberation Front? People Tigray?
The number of the front’s fighters, most of them from a paramilitary unit and local militia, is believed to be around 250,000.
The Front was founded in the 1970s and led the uprising against the “Marxist dictator” Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was overthrown in 1991.
Then it continued to become the dominant political force in the region until Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018.
Debrecion said the Tigrayans were “prepared to die in defense of our right to administer our region.”
What is the fight about?
The roots of the long-standing conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan Liberation Front, have been sparked recently by Abe’s moves to marginalize the party.
And when Abiy Ahmed postponed the national elections due to the Coronavirus in June, relations deteriorated further.
The front said the government’s mandate to govern has expired, arguing that the prime minister was not chosen in national elections.
In September, the party held its own elections that the government said were “illegal”.
In early November, TPLF fighters entered a military base in Mikkeli, initiating a Federal Army military operation in Tigray.