Ethiopia PM orders 'final offensive' against dissident Tigray leaders
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ordered Ethiopia's army to launch a final offensive against Tigray's dissident leaders in their regional capital Mekele, saying the deadline for surrender has expired.
On Sunday, Abiy gave members of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) 72 hours to lay down their arms.
The ultimatum was rejected by dissident leaders whose forces have been fighting federal troops in the country's north for the past three weeks, displacing over 40,000 people and killing hundreds.
Ethiopia's army -- which in recent days claimed to be advancing on Mekele with tanks -- has been directed "to conclude the third and final phase" against the TPLF, Abiy said.
"In this final phase, great care will be given to protect innocent civilians from harm. All efforts will be made to ensure that the city of Mekele, which was built through the hard work of our people, will not be severely damaged," the prime minister continued.
The overall safety and well-being of the people of Tigray is of paramount importance to the Federal government and we will do all that is necessary to ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want. pic.twitter.com/4u7NzfPZQ0— Abiy Ahmed Ali 🇪🇹 (@AbiyAhmedAli) November 21, 2020
Thousands of militia surrender
He said "thousands" of TPLF militia and special forces had surrendered to federal troops before the deadline lapsed.
It was not immediately clear how close the army was to the city. A communications blackout in Tigray and restrictions on reporting have made verifying claims from both sides difficult.
Diplomats briefed on the fighting told the French AFP news agency on Wednesday that federal forces were 30 kilometres from Mekele.
The threatened assault and fears for Tigray's half a million inhabitants accelerated diplomatic efforts this week to mediate, with the UN Security Council holding its first meeting on the crisis on Tuesday.
UN call to protect civilians
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged "the leaders of Ethiopia to do everything possible to protect civilians" as the US, EU and other international powers encouraged mediation through the African Union, headquartered in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
I'm very concerned about the situation in Tigray.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) November 25, 2020
International humanitarian law must be respected by all parties.
I urge Ethiopian leaders to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights & ensure humanitarian access.https://t.co/wwXU9MJjLt
Amnesty International and other rights watchdogs have warned that bombarding Mekele could constitute a war crime.
Abiy stressed that Ethiopia's defence forces had "carefully devised" a strategy to defeat the TPLF in Mekele without harming civilians or public property.
"We call on the people of Mekele and its environs to disarm, stay at home and stay away from military targets," and assist by handing over TPLF elements in their midst, Abiy said.
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