Ethiopia to advance troops to Tigray region capital after deadline for rebels to surrender passes

Ethiopia said its troops were marching on the capital of the Tigray region on Tuesday after a deadline for rebel forces to surrender passed in a two-week conflict shaking the Horn of Africa and alarming the world.

“The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.

His government, in a statement by its special task force on Tigray, said on Tuesday federal forces had “liberated” the Raya, Chercher, Gugufto and Mehoni localities on the eastern front along with Shire on the western front of the conflict.

It had destroyed TPLF military bases in both areas and was now heading for the state capital Mekelle, the statement said. “The force of the junta is now retreating, and the army is marching to bring the TPLF junta to justice.”

Africa’s youngest leader and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Abiy launched air strikes and a ground offensive on Nov. 4 after accusing former comrades and the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of armed revolt.

Tigrayan leaders say Abiy, 44, who comes from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo, has persecuted and purged them from government and security posts since taking office in 2018.

Tigrayan forces have fired rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, accusing Eritrean forces of helping the Ethiopian government side, an allegation denied by Asmara.

But the rocket fire has escalated a conflict which has already killed hundreds – one diplomatic source said thousands – and sent about 30,000 refugees into Sudan.

“How could they kill their own brothers and sisters? This is not our custom,” Addis Ababa resident Fitawrari Million said of the Tigrayan leaders during a rally to honour federal soldiers.

The United Nations said a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” was unfolding. With communications largely down and media barred.

Tigray’s leaders have accused federal forces of knocking out a dam and a sugar factory as well as “mercilessly” attacking people in the region of more than 5 million.

The government denies targeting civilians.

After an Amnesty International report of a massacre of scores of labourers, where it cited witnesses blaming TPLF forces, the U.N. rights chief said war crimes may have been committed.

The United States condemned the Tigrayans’ weekend attack against the airport of Eritrea’s capital, and urged a de-escalation of the war and protection of civilians.