Ethiopia army threatens 'no mercy' in assault on regional capital

Our Foreign Staff
·3 min read
An Ethiopian woman cries as she arrives in a refugee camp in Sudan, fleeing the horrendous civil war at the other side of the border. - Joost Bastmeijer for the Telegraph
An Ethiopian woman cries as she arrives in a refugee camp in Sudan, fleeing the horrendous civil war at the other side of the border. - Joost Bastmeijer for the Telegraph

Ethiopia's military on Sunday warned of an all-out assault on Mekele, capital of the Tigray region, telling civilians to flee while they still can.

"The next decisive battle is to surround Mekele with tanks," Dejene Tsegaye, a military spokesman, told state broadcasters on Sunday, threatening a siege of the city.

He added a warning for Mekele's half a million residents: "Save yourself. A directive has been communicated for you to dissociate yourself from this junta, after that there will be no mercy."

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed - last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner - launched a military campaign against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, accusing it of attacking two federal military camps in the region, and of defying his government and seeking to destabilise it.

On Sunday, Ethiopia said it would not talk to Tigrayan leaders to end the fighting. 

"We don't negotiate with criminals... We bring them to justice, not to the negotiating table," Mamo Mihretu, an aide to Mr Abiy, told the BBC. 

Tigray regional map, Ethiopia
Tigray regional map, Ethiopia

A communications blackout in the region has made claims from both sides difficult to verify but hundreds of people are reported to have been killed while tens of thousands have fled the fighting into neighbouring Sudan.

Mr Abiy's government has claimed the capture of a string of towns in recent days, including the ancient city of Aksum and the town of Edega Hamus, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Mekele.

"Defence forces have controlled Edaga Hamus city, which is on the road from Adigrat to Mekele," the Ethiopia State of Emergency Fact Check, a government agency, said Sunday.

"The defence forces are currently marching on the campaign's last goal, Mekele city."

TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael promised "fierce fighting" to hold up the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) advance.

"They'll continue to pay for every move," he told AFP. Debretsion warned that an assault on Mekele will not be the conflict's endgame.

"As long as the occuption force is in Tigray, fighting will not stop," he said.

The TPLF led the overthrow of Mengistu Hailemariam, head of Ethiopia's military Derg regime, in 1991 and dominated the country's politics until Abiy became prime minister in 2018.

The party continues to rule Tigray, one of 10 regional states under Ethiopia's system of federalism whereby regions are delineated by ethnicity and language.

TPLF leaders have complained of being sidelined by Mr Abiy and blamed for the country's woes.

The bitter feud with the central government led the TPLF to hold their own elections this year despite the postponement of national polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Abiy has spurned all calls for peace, including from the African Union - which plans to send three former national presidents as special envoys in the coming days - and from the US and the UN which has warned of a looming humanitarian disaster. His government regards the TPLF as a criminal administration and appears intent on winning the military battle rather than negotiating.