Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told African Union envoys on Friday that he will continue military operations in the troubled North Tigray region, resisting calls for dialogue as his army prepares for what he called a final offensive. against regional forces.
Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, announced on Thursday a “third and final phase” in his campaign against the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
For more than three weeks, the two sides have been involved in fierce fighting in Tigray that the International Crisis Group said on Friday had killed thousands of people “including many civilians and security forces.”
Global concern is centered on the half a million residents of Mekele, the regional capital, which the army says it surrounded before the attack threat.
World leaders and human rights groups have warned that such an attack could violate the rules of war and are calling for urgent mediation.
Pope Francis is among those concerned about escalating fighting, increasing loss of life and displacement, Vatican media chief Matteo Bruni said on Friday.
Abiy announced military operations in Tigray on November 4 after months of friction between his government and the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.
The prime minister has refused to negotiate with the TPLF and dismissed calls for dialogue as “interference” in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.
On Friday he received in his Addis Ababa office three former African leaders – Joaquim Chissano from Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe from South Africa – sent this week by the AU as mediators.
In a statement issued after their meeting, Abiy said he appreciated “this gesture and … the strong commitment it demonstrates to the principle of African solutions to African problems.”
Still, the government has a “constitutionally ordered responsibility to enforce the rule of law in the region and throughout the country,” his office said in a statement.
“Failure to do so would foster a culture of impunity at a devastating cost to the survival of the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Tigrayan government said on Friday that the federal army was bombing towns and villages and inflicting heavy damage, although it did not specifically mention Mekele.
“Our struggle will continue in all directions until the self-determination of the people of Tigray is guaranteed and the invading force is expelled,” Tigray authorities said in a statement read on regional television.
A communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify claims from both sides about how the fighting is going.
Hostilities have erupted in a year when the 55-member AU, based in Addis Ababa, resolved to play a more prominent role in conflict resolution across the continent under the slogan “Silence the guns.”
New attack on Eritrea
At least one rocket fired from Tigray targeted neighboring Eritrea on Friday night, four regional diplomats told AFP, the second such attack since Ethiopia’s internal conflict broke out earlier this month.
There was no immediate confirmation of how many rockets were fired, where they landed and the casualties or damage caused.
The TPLF has accused Ethiopia of gaining Eritrean military support in the fighting, an accusation Ethiopia denies.
The TPLF claimed responsibility for similar attacks in Eritrea two weeks ago, but there was no immediate comment from its leaders on Friday.
On the ground in Tigray, it was unclear whether the promised attack on Mekele had begun or how close federal forces were to the city.
Abiy, who ordered the “final” offensive against TPLF forces in Mekele after the deadline for their surrender expired earlier this week, said “great care” will be taken to protect civilians and prevent the city from suffering. Serious damage.
The prospect of a full-scale attack accelerated diplomatic efforts this week to resolve the conflict, with the UN Security Council holding its first meeting on Tigray and US and European officials urging restraint.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who met with his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in Paris on Thursday, called for urgent measures to protect civilians as the humanitarian consequences of the crisis worsened in the region. .
UNHCR said on Friday that nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray could run out of food as early as Monday if supplies could not reach them.
Meanwhile, in eastern Sudan, where more than 40,000 refugees have escaped the fighting in Tigray, local authorities are struggling to meet the sudden increase in demand for food, shelter and other essentials to save lives.