A few hours from now, a deadline to surrender would expire for Tigray forces as Ethiopia’s military has threatened to unleash its military might on the regional capital.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday rejected growing international demands for dialogue and a halt to deadly fighting as “interference”, saying his country will handle the conflict on its own as the 72-hour surrender ultimatum expires at 16:30 GMT.
“We respectfully urge the international community to refrain from any unwelcome and unlawful acts of interference.”
Government forces have almost encircled the Tigray capital, Mekelle, with tanks – A conflict Abiy insists on calling “law enforcement operation”
Reports from a news agency in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, claims that more than 10,000 Tigrayan troops had been “destroyed” during the three-week conflict raging in the mountainous north.
The report by the regional government-run AMMA agency in Amhara, where authorities back Abiy’s federal forces, could not be verified and there was no immediate response from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Abiy’s government has warned Mekelle’s residents to move away from TPLF leaders and military installations saying there will be “no mercy” – language the United Nations human rights chief and others have warned could lead to “further violations of international humanitarian law”.
Communications remain almost completely severed to the Tigray region of some six million people and it is not clear how many people in Mekelle are aware of the warnings and the threat of artillery fire.
Diplomats on Tuesday said UN Security Council members in a closed-door meeting expressed support for an African Union-led effort to deploy three high-level envoys to Ethiopia.
Three AU envoys are former Presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa.
Tigray’s regional leader Debretsion Gebremichael could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Genesis of the recent crisis
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s government for more than a quarter-century but was sidelined after Abiy took office in 2018 and sought to centralise power in a country long ruled along ethnic lines. The TPLF opted out when Abiy dissolved the ruling coalition, then infuriated the federal government by holding an election in September after a national vote was postponed by COVID-19. Each side now regards the other as illegal.
The international community has urgently called for communications to be restored to the Tigray region so warring sides’ claims can be investigated, and so food and other desperately needed supplies can be sent as hunger grows.
The United Nations says it has been unable to send supplies into Tigray since the fighting began on November 4, when Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a military base.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed in three weeks of fighting. More than 40,000 refugees have fled into Sudan. Nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees at camps in northern Tigray have come close to the line of fire.