Dissident leaders from Tigray, a war-torn country in Ethiopia, rejected a government ceasefire declaration and vowed to expel “enemies” from the region, after rebel fighters advanced on the capital of Tigrayan last night.
In a dramatic development in the nearly eight-month conflict, which has been marked by large-scale atrocities, federal security forces and Addis-appointed interim government officials fled Mekelle last night. Residents took to the streets in glee, firing celebratory shots and fireworks into the sky.
“The capital of Tigray, Mekelle, is under our control,” Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters by satellite phone Monday night as Tigray fighters took over the airport. of the city and other key positions.
An additional statement overnight praised the advances of the Tigrayan Defense Forces (TDF) and declared that Mekelle was fully under their control, promising to expel the “enemies” of the federal government.
“The Tigray government calls on our people and the Tigray army to intensify their fight until our enemies leave Tigray completely,” the statement said. “The government and the army of Tigray will carry out all the necessary tasks to guarantee the survival and security of our people,” the statement said.
Shortly after the TDF forces advanced on Mekelle, the Ethiopian government declared a “unilateral ceasefire”, in a rare attempt to reduce the escalation of the war. The ceasefire “will allow farmers to cultivate their land, help groups to operate without any military movement and engage with remnants (of the TPLF) seeking peace,” the Ethiopian statement said, adding that efforts to carry out the former leaders of Tigray brought to justice continued.
Ethiopia said the ceasefire would last until September, the end of the crucial planting season in the region.
Government forces invaded Tigray in November, sparking outrage and worldwide condemnation from Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The government said it had acted after the rebel attacks on military bases, and the TPLF, which previously ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades, was toppled within six weeks.
About a million civilians have been internally displaced and have fled to neighboring Sudan, sparking a humanitarian crisis. The presence of Eritrean forces and local ethnic militia groups in the fighting has deepened fears that worsening ethnic and historical divisions will have a lasting impact on the region.
For months, the TDF appeared to have been subdued as the guerilla-style conflict progressed, but in recent weeks they have launched a series of counter-offensives. An increase in fighting coincided with Ethiopia’s national elections earlier this month, which were not held in Tigray. Although the TDF did not occupy any major city or town for months, its leaders repeatedly boasted that they were on the rise and regrouping in remote rural areas.
Residents had recently reported that the rebels were advancing as close as 55 kilometers near the city, and the rebels boasted of inflicting heavy losses on federal forces. Last week, residents reported that flights to Mekelle were restricted and, as fighting intensified, officials were said to be denying permits for relief operations in towns outside the city.
While the TPLF vowed to keep fighting, world leaders moved to end the conflict, amid the government’s ceasefire declaration.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday that he had spoken with Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and that he was “hopeful for an effective cessation of hostilities.”
Britain, the United States and Ireland have called an emergency public meeting of the UN security council, which could take place on Friday, diplomatic sources told AFP. The security council has been unable to hold a public session on Tigray since the war broke out, and many African countries, China, Russia and other nations view the crisis as an internal Ethiopia affair.
During the recent conflict, 64 people were killed and 180 injured in a government airstrike on a market in Togoga city, according to health workers and local residents.
Ethiopia said the airstrike targeted rebel fighters, but survivors and health workers said the attack took place in a crowded market and killed and injured dozens of people, including children.
The Ethiopian government has heavily restricted aid agencies from providing desperately needed aid. Around 350,000 people are on the brink of famine according to the UN. Abiy has denied that there is hunger in Tigray.
The Tigray conflict has been characterized by various atrocities, including multiple massacres and systematic sexual violence. Many have linked up with Ethiopian federal soldiers and their Eritrean allies.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism