Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave the regional forces of the northern Tigray province a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender before the military begins an assault on the regional capital Mekelle.
“We urge you to surrender peacefully within 72 hours, recognizing that you are at the point of no return,” said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in a tweet.
The Ethiopian army threatened to besiege the city of hundreds of thousands earlier Sunday.
“The next decisive battle is to surround Mekele with tanks,” Dejene Tsegave, a military spokesman, told state broadcasters.
Dejene warned Mekele residents, “save yourself. A directive has been communicated for you to dissociate yourself from this junta, after that there will be no mercy.”
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leader Debretsion Gebremichael promised “fierce fighting” to halt the Ethiopian army’s advance. “They’ll continue to pay for every move,” he told AFP.
The TPLF led the overthrow of Mengistu Hailemariam, who lead Ethiopia’s military Derg regime, in 1991. The forces dominated the East African nation’s political scene until Abiy became prime minister in 2018.
The feud with Abiy caused the TPLF to hold their own elections this year despite the postponement of national polls due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tensions flared after an alleged TPLF attack earlier this month.
Tigray residents voted in a local election earlier this year in defiance of the federal government
Abiy responded by taking several towns with aerial bombardments and ground fighting. The conflict has already killed hundreds, potentially thousands of people, and sent more than 30,000 refugees into neighboring Sudan.
Abiy’s government has seen the TPLF as a criminal administration and has refused all calls for peace.
The African Union (AU) said Saturday that it would send a special envoy to mediate between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF. Ahmed called the announcement “fake news.”
The conflict has already led to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to Sudan
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations and US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who served under fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient Barack Obama, tweeted that if Ahmed went through with his plan, that would amount to “war crimes.” Rice referenced Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader in the tweet.
The US and UN have called the worsening situation in Ethiopia a looming humanitarian disaster.
The UN has called for opening humanitarian corridors to allow aid agencies access, and said it was preparing for as many as 200,000 refugees to flee into Sudan in the coming months.
kbd/aw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)