ADDIS ABABA: The Ethiopian government said on Saturday that its forces seized another city in their advance on the rebel capital of the northern Tigray region, and repelled an African diplomatic push for mediation.
More than two weeks after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s offensive began, his government said Tigrayian forces were digging and using bulldozers to clear the roads around the regional capital Mekelle, which is home to around half a million people. .
Hundreds, if not thousands, have died and more than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan. The conflict has spread beyond Tigray, whose forces have fired rockets at the neighboring region of Amhara and the Eritrean nation, sparking concern of a wider war and the outbreak of Ethiopia. multi-ethnic.
Abiy’s government has announced that it will reach Mekelle soon after taking several surrounding towns. On Saturday, he said Adigrat had also fallen, about 116 km north of Mekelle.
Rebel Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) said nine civilians died in artillery fire on Adigrat, where they accused Eritrea of supporting the Ethiopian army.
Abiy’s army and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki “inflicted heavy casualties on innocent civilians in Adigrat,” the TPLF communications office said in a statement on Facebook.
The government and military could not be reached immediately for comment, but have previously repeatedly denied targeting civilians, saying they only hit TPLF targets.
Claims from all sides are difficult to verify as phone lines and the Internet have been down since the conflict began on November 4 and media are largely banned.
Eritrea denies claims by the TPLF to send troops across the border to support Abiy’s offensive against Tigrayan forces, who are also an old enemy of Eritrea.
Refugee and rights group Amnesty International also reported the deaths of civilians, although Reuters was unable to verify this information.
The African Union bloc has appointed former Presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys to seek a ceasefire and mediation talks.
Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea, said he wanted to remove the TPLF leaders before speaking.
“The news circulating that the envoys will travel to Ethiopia to mediate between the federal government and the criminal element of the TPLF is false,” the government tweeted on Saturday.
Abiy accuses the Tigrayan rulers of revolting against central authority and attacking federal troops in the town of Dansha. Rebel leaders say Abiy’s government has marginalized and persecuted Tigrayans since coming to power two years ago.
Abiy denies this, saying he is only seeking to restore law and order and preserve the unity of Ethiopia and its 115 million people.
The UN and other aid agencies have said the conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where many of the more than 5 million people were already displaced and dependent on food aid even before the conflict.
Satellite images provided to Reuters by US space company Maxar Technologies showed destroyed buildings along the main road near Dansha Airport, where the conflict erupted.
The TPLF is popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Abiy took office. Abiy’s parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups.
“We will do whatever is necessary to ensure stability in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want,” the Prime Minister tweeted on Saturday.
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