The fighting between Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) continues to spiral out of control. Tigray is a northern Ethiopian province which had engaged in a guerrilla war against the Ethiopian government from 1975 to 19991.
Various media outlets report that Ethiopian national defense forces have taken control of Shire and Alamata located respectively northwest and south of Tigray’s capital of Mekelle.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a Facebook post that the three-day ultimatum he had issued for Tigray military forces to surrender has passed. He added that the offensive by Ethiopian military forces is now entering its final phase.
The Ethiopian government says TPLF forces destroyed four bridges on the road to Mekelle to stop national forces from advancing.
On November 4, Prime Minister Ahmed ordered the offensive against Tigray after forces from the TPLF had attacked an Ethiopian Northern Command base and made off with nearly all of the heavy weapons and equipment. The recent showdown began when elections, which the Ethiopian government considered illegal, were held in Tigray.
The military has been conducting airstrikes and calling in artillery on TPLF forces inside of Mekelle. It has announced that it is not targeting civilians. The government has accused the TPLF of concealing military equipment in schools, mosques, and churches. It has not furnished proof to substantiate its claims.
On Wednesday, the leaders of Tigray’s TPLF posted a statement on Facebook Wednesday, vowing that “the people of Tigray will never kneel down to actions of aggressors.”
“Tigray is now a hell to its enemies,” the statement read, claiming “remarkable victories” on the battlegrounds, directly contradicting the Ethiopian government’s claims. The TLPF leaders also accused federal forces of killing innocent civilians while targeting churches and homes.
“Tigray will be the graveyard of dictators and aggressors and not their playground,” the statement concluded.
The humanitarian cost continues to rise alarmingly. Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting and hundreds of thousands of civilians have already been displaced. Of those, more than 30,000 people have fled into neighboring Sudan.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, has said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding.”
“The protection of populations impacted by the conflict remains an overarching humanitarian concern,” UNHCR’s latest Situational Update on the crisis in Tigray said.
As soon as the crisis began, the Ethiopian government immediately cut off Tigray from the outside, as Ethiopia’s civil aviation authority said airports in Mekelle and the regional cities of Shire, Axum, and Humera were “closed for any services.” The government also cut all internet and phone lines in the Tigray region.
With no way to contact people in the region, in many cases, news services are operating blindly.
The UN isn’t able to deliver any humanitarian supplies into the region. Food and basic necessities are lacking for most of the people in the region. The UNHCR has said that it is awaiting clearance by the Ethiopian government to provide assistance once “access and security allow” to do so.
Trucks laden with food, fuel, and medical supplies have been stuck outside Tigray’s borders since the crisis began.
Amnesty International has confirmed that “scores, and likely hundreds, of people, were stabbed or hacked to death” in the town of Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) on Monday last week. Both sides accused the other of being the perpetrator of the heinous crime.
“We do not know if there will be additional UN-coordinated relocation efforts out of Tigray,” the U.S. Embassy said on Tuesday after the UN said some 200 foreigners had been evacuated. “U.S. citizens who cannot depart Tigray safely are advised to shelter in place.”
“Humanitarian workers should be given safe passage to provide assistance to vulnerable groups,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Communications services in the Tigray region should be restored immediately.”