Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says government forces are now “fully in control” of the regional capital of the northern Tigray region.
The army earlier entered Mekelle as it stepped up its offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The Tigray government had reported that the city of a half-million people was being “heavily bombarded” in the final push to arrest the region’s leaders.
“God bless Ethiopia and its people!” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement declaring that the taking of Mekele marked the “completion” of the military offensive that started nearly four weeks ago. “We have entered Mekele without innocent civilians being targets,” he said.
Communications remain down in the region and the TPLF has not commented on the army’s claims. It earlier urged nations to condemn the attack.
“Federal police will now continue their task of apprehending TPLF criminals and bring them to the court of law,” said the prime minister, who has called the government offensive a law and order operation.
“We now have ahead of us the critical task of rebuilding what has been destroyed…with the utmost priority of returning normalcy to the people of the Tigray region,” Abiy said on Saturday.
TPFL leaders dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition before Abiy came to power in 2018 and sidelined them among the sweeping reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Abiy’s government has since accused the TPLF of inciting unrest in the country and seeking to reclaim power, and each government regards the other as illegal. Abiy has rejected dialogue with the TPLF leaders over the past month, including during a Friday meeting with three African Union special envoys.
Some Ethiopians at home and in the diaspora rejoiced at the news that Mekele was under the military’s control. “Praise God for his mercy upon us. Thanks to the Almighty God our creator. Amen. Let peace prevail in Ethiopia!!!” former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn tweeted.
The fighting has threatened to destabilize Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa, and its neighbors.
As international alarm has grown since the conflict began on Nov. 4, so has a massive humanitarian crisis. The Tigray region of 6 million people has been cut off from the world as the military pursued what Abiy called a “law enforcement operation” with airstrikes and tanks.
Food, fuel, cash and medical supplies have run desperately low. Humanitarians and human rights groups said several hundred people have been killed. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced, including more than 40,000 who fled into Sudan. Camps home to 96,000 Eritrean refugees in northern Tigray have been in the line of fire.
With communications severed, it is difficult to verify claims by the warring sides. The Tigray leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, could not be reached Saturday evening. The heavily armed TPLF has long experience fighting in the region’s rugged terrain, and some experts had warned of a drawn-out conflict.
Rita Osakwe/Agency Reports