Ethiopian government forces completed operations to capture regional capital Mekelle: PM Abiy Ahmed

Government forces in Ethiopia are now “fully in control” of the regional capital of the northern Tigray region, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.

Abiy in a statement said the army was in full control and that this “marks the completion of the [military’s] last phase”.

“I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region,” he said.

The army had released thousands of soldiers taken by the TPLF and was in control of the airport and regional offices, Mr Abiy said, adding that the operation had been carried out with “due care for citizens”.

It was earlier reported that the army stepped up offensive to capture the regional capital Mekelle in the rebellious northern Tigray region on Saturday.

The government said it gave the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) an ultimatum that expired  to lay down arms or face an assault on Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people.

Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the TPLF told Reuters it would continue to “defend our right to self-determination” and “fight these invaders to the last”.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced in the conflict. At least 43,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Sudan.

Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of Ethiopia’s 115 million population, dominated the government until Abiy took power two years ago.

Abiy pledged to unite Ethiopians and introduce freedoms after years of state repression that filled jails with tens of thousands of political prisoners. His government also put senior Tigrayan officials on trial for crimes such as corruption, torture and murder. The Tigrayan region saw those trials as discrimination.