0514 GMT August 05, 2021
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is refusing to surrender its rule of the northern region, said its forces were digging trenches and standing firm, Reuters reported.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal troops have taken a string of towns during aerial bombardments and ground fighting, and are now aiming for Mekelle, a highland city of about 500,000 people where the rebels are based.
The war has killed hundreds, possibly thousands, sent more than 30,000 refugees into neighboring Sudan, and seen rockets fired by rebels into neighboring Amhara region and across the border into the nation of Eritrea.
Foreign nations have urged talks, but Abiy has pressed on with the offensive since November 4.
“The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks,” military spokesman Colonel Dejene Tsegaye told state-run Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation.
“We want to send a message to the public in Mekelle to save yourselves from any artillery attacks and free yourselves from the junta ... After that, there will be no mercy.”
TPLF leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, told Reuters by text message that his forces were resisting a push from the south while also fighting near the northern town of Adigrat after it fell to federal troops.
“Encircling Mekelle is their plan but yet they couldn’t,” he said. “On south front, they couldn’t move an inch for more than one week. They (are) sending waves after waves but to no avail.”
Abiy accuses the Tigrayan leaders of revolting against central authority and starting the conflict by attacking federal troops in the town of Dansha. The rebels say his government has marginalized Tigrayans since taking office two years ago, removing them from senior roles in government and the military and detaining many on rights abuse and corruption charges.
Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government’s task force on Tigray, said there was still time for TPLF leaders to surrender. “The government will take maximum restraint not to cause major risks for civilians,” he added.
While many Tigrayan special forces and militiamen had surrendered or scattered around Adigrat, resistance was stronger on the southern front, Redwan said, where rebels have dug up roads, destroyed bridges and booby-trapped roads.
The task force added that the army had also taken the small town of Idaga Hamus on the road from Adigrat to Mekelle.