The Ethiopian army said on Saturday that it would control in “a few days” Mekele, the capital of the dissident region of Tigray (north), where the government ensures that it is carrying out the last phase of a military operation that worries the international community.
Three weeks after the start of the fighting, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday ordered the army to launch an offensive on Mekele, where the Tigrayan authorities, from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), are entrenched and that is fighting Addis Ababa.
More than 48 hours after this announcement, no information had filtered out on the possible beginning of fighting in the regional capital, which sheltered before the conflict some 500,000 inhabitants.
The federal army has “captured essential points to take control of the forces of the TPLF junta, and is heading towards Mekele, which is already under siege,” the power-affiliated Fana BC radio-television said on Saturday morning. .
The army declares on Fana BC that it controls several localities in the area, including that of Agula, less than 40 km north of the regional capital, and announces that it “will control Mekele in a few days”, without specifying whether any fighting has taken place. already taking place in this city.
Verification on the ground and from an independent source of the assertions of either side is difficult, as Tigray has been virtually cut off from the world since the start of the conflict.
A diplomatic source confirmed to AFP on Saturday that the army was in Agula on Friday evening, adding that the situation was however unclear south of Mekele.
For their part, on local television, the Tigrayan authorities on Friday called on their constituents to fight, saying that the federal army was bombing their “towns and villages”, “inflicting heavy damage”.
At least one rocket fired from Tigray on Friday evening targeted Eritrea’s capital Asmara, four diplomats based in the Horn of Africa told AFP. According to one of them, she fell “south of Asmara”. Any casualties or damage are still not known.
The TPLF, which targeted Asmara ten days ago with similar weapons, accusing Eritrea of serving as a base for the Ethiopian army, did not claim the shot.
Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea has responded yet.
Concerned about the spread of the conflict on a regional scale, the international community is also alerting to possible “war crimes” in Ethiopia and trying to pressure Mr. Abiy to accept mediation.
The AU, headquartered in Addis Ababa, has appointed three special envoys to this effect, former Mozambican presidents Joaquim Chissano, Liberian Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and South African Kgalema Motlanthe.
After meeting them on Friday, Mr. Abiy expressed his “gratitude”, but recalled that his government had “the constitutional responsibility to maintain order (in Tigray) and across the country”.
On Friday evening, the AU thanked in a statement Mr. Abiy for having received his emissaries, to whom the latter said that the military operation “would not last long”, that a committee would be established to “respond to essential humanitarian needs ”and that a humanitarian corridor“ was to be identified and announced ”.
“Several thousand dead”
No precise assessment of the fighting in Tigray is so far available, but the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG) estimated Friday that “several thousand people died in the fighting”.
Meanwhile, more than 43,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
An unknown number of people are also moving inside Tigray, and Ethiopia. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday that it had counted at least 2,000 displaced people in the northeast of the country, stressing “that there are many more”.
Tensions between Mr. Abiy and the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia’s political and security apparatus for nearly three decades, have grown steadily since the prime minister came to power in 2018.
They have culminated in recent months with the organization in Tigray of a regional election described as “illegitimate” by Addis Ababa, in September, then with the attack in early November on two bases of the federal army attributed to TPLF forces. , which denies the latter.