According to a tweet from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) took control of Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region over the weekend. The airport, public institutions, the regional administrative office and other critical facilities are under the control of the federal government. The Ethiopian Prime Minister thanked the people of Tigray and stressed that the next critical task is to work to rebuild what has been destroyed.
For the federal government, the military campaign against the rebel region ended with the defeat of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which from 1991 to 2018 ruled the country unchallenged by controlling the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRD) coalition. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali said that now there will only be operations conducted by the federal police to intercept the TPLF officials and bring them to justice and round-up operations of the last pockets of resistance of the Tigrin forces and of the stragglers still in arms. Thousands of Northern Division officers detained by the TPLF for refusing to mutiny would now be released by federal forces.
The conquest of the capital of Tigray was preceded by heavy bombings that would have caused no casualties among civilians, according to the Addis Ababa government. Premier Abiy met Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa and President of the African Union, along with other AU envoys, Wednesday through Friday to assure them that the assault on Mekelle would not last long and that the citizens who fled would be resettled. On Saturday, the federal government said it appreciated the concern of the international community and that civilians were not targeted during the operation. A statement that is difficult to verify causes the blocking of information implemented since 4 November on the rebel region.
A humanitarian corridor will be open in both directions, according to a statement from the federal government’s state of emergency task force. An extremely important gesture given the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. More than 43,000 Ethiopian refugees have entered neighboring Sudan since the fighting began on 4 November, when the country’s Nobel Prize-winning leader chose the path of military confrontation with the rebel region.
The number of internally displaced people within Tigray is growing every day, and some pre-existing refugee camps in the region only have food supplies for three days, according to UNHCR. UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, traveled to Sudan until Sunday to meet government officials and partners, along with visits to refugee camps. Three Ethiopian Red Cross ambulances have been attacked since the fighting began, and hospitals in northern Ethiopia are in urgent need of medical supplies, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported last Friday.
The first official reaction of the TPLF came from its leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, who told Reuters on Saturday that Mekelle was under heavy shelling. According to testimonies from humanitarian workers in the capital of Tigray, federal forces would have conquered Mekelle without finding much resistance. The bulk of the TPLF forces would have been evacuated before the encirclement to start a long guerrilla war in the surrounding and impenetrable mountains. Police and federal soldiers, flanked by the fascist Amhara militias would have started a manhunt for all the leaders of the ruling party in Tigray: the TPLF in an attempt to destroy the leadership, militarily prepared and able to organize a long and exhausting guerilla mountain. Gebremichael, leader of the TPLF promised to keep fighting. «The brutality demonstrated by the federal government can only strengthen our resolve to fight these invaders to the last,» Gebremichael told Reuters on Saturday. Asked if this meant that his forces would continue to fight, he replied: «Of course. It is about defending our right to self-determination».
In the short term, Mekelle’s capture will be seen as a personal triumph for Abiy that will strengthen her position as a national leader. But experts have warned that federal forces could face a protracted insurrection in the region.
Some experts point out that the TPLF’s battle against federal forces from 1975 to 1991 ended with the ethnic-based party taking power in Addis Ababa, but others said that with the Sudanese border closed and Eritrea now allied of Ethiopia, the TPLF more isolated than 30 years ago. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and many more displaced from fighting began more than three weeks ago and it is feared that the conflict could destabilize the wider region of the Horn of Africa, one of the most fragile on the African continent.
Aid workers reported calm to Mekelle. «The situation in Mekelletoday is calm and we hope to be able to get urgently needed assistance soon,» said Maria Soledad, head of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ethiopia, who visited Ayder Reference Hospital in city.
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