Ethiopia’s prime minister says the army has been ordered to move on the embattled Tigray regional capital after his 72-hour ultimatum ended for Tigray leaders to surrender, and he warns the city’s half-million residents to stay indoors and disarm.
Instead, “an increasing number of people continues to leave Mekele” even after the deadline expired, UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu says. They join tens of thousands of newly displaced people throughout the region, which remains almost completely sealed off from the world, beyond the reach of desperately needed food and other aid.
The military offensive “has reached its final stage” after three weeks of fighting, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office says. That means tanks and other weaponry can close in on Mekele, whose residents were warned of “no mercy” if they didn’t move away from the defiant Tigray leaders in time.
That caused international alarm as rights groups said such wording could violate international law and put civilians in further danger. “We will take utmost care to protect civilians,” Abiy’s statement says. It also asserts that thousands of Tigray militia and special forces surrendered during the 72-hour period.
Tigray regional leaders couldn’t immediately be reached. With communications and transport links severed, it remains difficult to verify claims in the fighting that erupted Nov. 4 between Ethiopian forces and the heavily armed forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which once dominated Ethiopia’s government but has been sidelined under Abiy’s rule. The two governments now regard each other as illegal.
The fighting threatens to destabilize Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa, and even its neighbors.