Ethiopian military has taken ‘full control’ of Tigray capital – government

A member of the Amhara Special Forces looks on while holding his rifle at the 5th Battalion of the Ethiopian Army Northern Command in Dansha, Ethiopia.  EDUARDO SOTERAS - AFP

Ethiopian federal forces have taken “total control” of the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle, the prime minister and the military chief of staff said Saturday night.

Authorities had previously said that government forces were in the final stages of an offensive in the region and would be busy protecting civilians in Mekelle, a city of 500,000 inhabitants.

There was no immediate comment from Tigrayan forces in the northern region, who have been fighting government troops for the past three weeks.

“The federal government now has full control of the city of Mekelle,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement posted on his Twitter page.

That followed a statement saying the same from the army’s chief of staff, Birhanu Jula, on the army’s official Facebook page.

The claims of all parties are difficult to verify, as telephone and Internet links to the region have fallen and access has been strictly controlled since the fighting began on November 4.

Earlier on Saturday, a diplomat in direct contact with residents and the leader of the Tigrayan forces said that federal forces had started an offensive to capture Mekelle.

The government had given the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) an ultimatum that expired on Wednesday to lay down their arms or face an assault on the city.

Thousands of people are believed to have died and some 43,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Sudan during the conflict. The northern region of Tigray also borders the nation of Eritrea.

Abiy accuses the Tigray leaders of starting the war by attacking federal troops at a base in Tigray. The TPLF says the attack was a preemptive strike.

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