Ethiopian forces launch offensive against Tigray’s capital Mekelle: diplomat, Tigray’s forces leader
Ethiopian government forces launched an offensive to capture the regional capital of Mekelle in the rebellious northern Tigray region on Saturday, a diplomat said in direct contact with residents and the leader of Tigray’s forces.
Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters in a text message that Mekelle was under “heavy bombardment”. The Ethiopian military uses artillery in the attack, he said in a subsequent text message.
The diplomat said explosions were reported in the northern part of the city, in the Hamidai area. A second diplomat also said the attack had begun.
Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said: “The Ethiopian National Defense Force does not have a mission to bomb its own city and its people. Mekelle is still one of Ethiopia’s most important cities and efforts to establish the right to criminal clique will not be discriminatory.” bombing “suggested by the TPLF and their propagandists.”
She added: “Ethiopian security in Mekelle and the Tigray region continues to be a priority for the federal government.”
Allegations from all quarters are difficult to verify as telephone and internet links to the region have been down and access has been closely monitored since fighting began three weeks ago between government forces and the TPLF.
The government gave the TPLF an ultimatum last Sunday to lay down arms or face an attack on Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people. The ultimatum expired on Wednesday.
Abiy told African peacekeepers on Friday that his government would protect civilians in Tigray. But Abiy has said he sees the conflict as an internal issue and his government has so far rejected attempts at mediation.
The Ethiopian military has been fighting for forces in the northern region of Tigray, which borders the nations of Eritrea and Sudan, since November 4. Abiy accuses Tigray leaders of starting the war by attacking federal troops at a base in Tigray. The TPLF says the attack was a preventive strike.
Thousands of people are believed to have died and some 43,000 refugees have fled to Sudan.
Debretsion also accused the Eritrean military of crossing the border and looting refugee camps in Tigray to capture refugees who had previously fled Eritrea.
Reuters could not immediately receive comments from the Eritrean government, which has not responded to calls from Reuters in more than two weeks.
TPLF and Eritrea are arch-enemies: TPLF was in charge in Addis Ababa when Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a war in 1998-2000. But Eritrea and Abiy have warm relations. The Ethiopian government has denied TPLF allegations that Eritrean troops are working on Ethiopian soil.
Eritrea is one of the most oppressive nations in the world. It has never had an election and no independent media has operated there for two decades. At the age of 18, men and women from Eritrea must enter compulsory government service indefinitely. About 10% of the population has fled.
On Friday night in Eritrea, “a loud noise, possibly an explosion” was heard in the capital Asmara, the US embassy said in a statement early on Saturday. TPLF rockets hit Eritrea on November 14.
Letter to envoy
On Friday, a letter was sent to embassies in Addis Ababa warning the defense that they risked deportation if they were in contact with named enemies in Ethiopia.
“Some military affiliations are working with those who threatened the country’s security, identified in the blacklist and requested by the court’s lawyer,” the letter said. The letter was stamped by Brigadier General Boultie Tadesse from the Defense Directorate of Foreign Affairs, the copy of which is shown to Reuters.
“We will expel those who do not refrain from their actions who are in contact with the extremist group.”
A military spokesman and the head of the government working group Tigray did not respond to a request for comment.
Prime Minister Billene’s spokeswoman said she could not raise questions about the letter, including whether it referred to the TPLF, without seeing the original document.
The Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of Ethiopia’s 115 million people, dominated the government until Abiy took power two years ago.
Abiy promised to unite Ethiopians and introduce freedoms after years of state repression that filled prisons with tens of thousands of political prisoners. His government also charged senior Tigrayan officials with crimes such as corruption, torture and murder. The Tigrayan region saw these trials as discrimination.
Abiy’s reforms created more political space but also lifted the lid on far-flung tensions over land and resources.