Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the start of the “final stage” of a military operation in Tigray with an attack on Mekele, the provincial capital.
He said the army would try not to harm civilians, and urged residents in the city to stay in their homes.
This comes after a deadline set by Abe for the Tigrayans to surrender on Wednesday.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which controls the territory, has vowed to continue fighting.
Hundreds of people have been reported killed, and thousands forced from their homes.
However, the details of the fighting are difficult to confirm because all telephone, cell phone and internet communications have been cut off with the Tigray region.
Ethiopia has so far rejected any mediation attempts, saying the conflict is a domestic issue and that the Abe government is participating in a law enforcement mission in Tigray.
What did Prime Minister Abe say?
The Ethiopian army has ordered an attack on Mekele, a city of about 500,000, in the “third and final phase” of the federal government’s military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Abe said that “great care” would be taken to protect civilians and “every effort” would be made to limit the damage in Mikkeli.
He urged people in Mikkeli and surrounding areas to disarm and stay at home and away from military targets.
He stressed that religious and historical sites, institutions and residential areas will not be targeted.
What did he say party Tigray People’s Liberation Front?
The leader of the powerful party, Depression Gebremichael, said that the Tigrayans were “prepared to die in defense of our right to administer our region.”
Aid groups fear that the conflict will lead to a humanitarian crisis and destabilize the Horn of Africa.
The United Nations has expressed alarm at the possibility of major hostilities if the Ethiopian army attacks Mikkeli.
The representatives of the African Union arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday, and are expected to meet with Abe. However, they will not be permitted to travel to Tigray. Ethiopia described the mediation offers as “unwelcome and illegal acts of interference.”
The state-appointed Human Rights Commission in Ethiopia accused a youth group from Tigray of being behind the massacre earlier this month, and said more than 600 civilians were killed in it.
The commission says the group stabbed, beaten and burned to death non-Tigrin residents in Mai Kadra, in collusion with local forces.
The TPLF denied any involvement and called for an independent international investigation.
What is the fighting going on?
The roots of the conflict go back to the longstanding tension between the central government in Ethiopia and the Tigrayan Liberation Front, which was the dominant political force in the entire country until Abe came to power in 2018 and introduced a series of wide-ranging reforms.
And when Abe postponed national elections due to the Coronavirus in June, relations deteriorated further.
The party said the central government’s mandate to govern has ended, arguing that the prime minister was not elected in national elections.
In September, the party held special elections in the region, which the central government said were “illegal”.
On November 4, Abe announced the start of a military operation against the front, accusing party forces of attacking the army’s northern headquarters in Mikkeli.
The TPLF fighters, most of whom belong to a well-trained paramilitary unit and local militia, are believed to number around 250,000. Analysts say the conflict could be long and bloody given the strength of Tigray’s forces.