Ethiopian PM: Capture of Tigray capital marks end of military offensive
Updated 12:38, 29-Nov-2020

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Saturday that the "full command" of the Tigray region's capital Mekelle marked the completion of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF)'s military operations. 

"The federal government is now fully in control of the city of Mekelle," Ahmed said, as he emphasized the "main operation" of the fighting between the Ethiopian army and forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) has "now successfully concluded." 

"With full command of the regional capital, this marks the completion of the ENDF's last phase. Federal police will now continue their task of apprehending TPLF criminals and bring them to the court," Ahmed said in a statement issued on Saturday. 

According to Ahmed, the ENDF has thus far managed to secure the release of thousands of Northern Command officers held hostage by the TPLF, secure the Northern Command camp, and take control of the airport, public institutions, the regional administration office and other critical facilities. 

He noted that the Ethiopian army undertook the operation "with precision and due care for citizens ensuring civilians are not targeted." 

Ahmed, winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, said the people of the Tigray region "have provided utmost support and cooperation to the Ethiopian National Defense Force in all corners." 

A satellite image shows vehicles queuing for gas in Mekelle, Tigray region, Ethiopia, November 23, 2020. /Reuters

A satellite image shows vehicles queuing for gas in Mekelle, Tigray region, Ethiopia, November 23, 2020. /Reuters

The prime minister also stressed that "we now have ahead of us the critical task of rebuilding what has been destroyed, repairing what is damaged, returning those who have fled, with utmost priority of returning normalcy to the people of the Tigray region." 

"The federal government appreciates the concern shown by the international community," Ahmed said, as he called upon "friends of Ethiopia to join hands in rebuilding the Tigray region and giving its people the respite, humanitarian assistance and security they deserve." 

Ahmed's remarks came shortly after the Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Defense Forces, Berhanu Jula, announced on Saturday that the Ethiopian army has "fully controlled Mekelle City." 

Noting that the Ethiopian army is now in full control of TPLF's last stronghold, the Chief of Staff stressed that the defense forces "are now hunting anti-peace forces in and around Mekelle City." 

According to Jula, the defence forces have also freed more than 7,000 members of the defense forces who were captured by the TPLF fighters during TPLF's assault on the army base near Mekelle, which eventually led to the start of the fighting. 

Ethiopians carry their belongings on their way to Sudan, November 22, 2020. /Reuters

Ethiopians carry their belongings on their way to Sudan, November 22, 2020. /Reuters

The latest development came after the federal government on Thursday announced the commencement of the "third and final phase" of the military operations towards Mekelle, a city of more than 500,000 people where senior TPLF leaders are believed to be stationed. 

The Ethiopian Defense Forces are reportedly surrounding Mekelle. The Ethiopian military had earlier disclosed that it had captured towns adjacent to the city. 

On Saturday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, stressed that "concerns are growing for the safety of civilians inside the Tigray region of Ethiopia, particularly in and around the capital Mekelle that is home to 500,000 people." 

The refugee agency also stressed that "there are reports of basic services coming to a halt while the security situation continues to deteriorate. It is feared the number of those internally displaced inside Tigray by the fighting as well as to other regions of Ethiopia is growing daily." 

More than three weeks of fierce fighting has left thousands dead "including many civilians as well as security forces," the International Crisis Group said Friday. 

Tens of thousands of refugees have streamed over the border into Sudan. 

The federal government's operations followed the TPLF's attack on the northern command base of the Ethiopian Defense Force, a division stationed in the region for over two decades and based in Mekelle.

Prior to the fighting, the Ethiopian government had been blaming the TPLF, which was one of the four coalition fronts of Ethiopia's former ruling party the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), for masterminding various treasonous acts across different parts of the country with an overarching goal of destabilizing the country. 

(With input from Xinhua)

(Cover: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed delivers his speech during a military parade in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, September 30, 2020. /Xinhua)