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Ethiopian troops advancing toward capital of rebel-held region: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ethiopian refugees who have fled fighting in Tigray lay in the shade in a straw shack at the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref Province, on November 18, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Ethiopian government forces have reportedly liberated two towns in the rebel-held northern region of Tigray and are further advancing to retake the regional capital, Mekelle, as violence continues to rage in the East African country for a second week.

Redwan Hussein, a spokesperson for the state of emergency task force, told CNN on Wednesday that the government forces had retaken the towns of Shire and Alamata and “are closing in [on Mekelle] but it will take about 100-200 km from several directions.”

The embattled leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region has confirmed the losses, which he called a “temporary setback,” vowing to defeat the government.

Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said his forces were inflicting “heavy defeats on all fronts” against Ethiopian forces, calling on all Tigrayans to mobilize and join the “struggle.”

Ethiopian officials have accused the TPLF of destroying four bridges on the road to Mekelle in an effort to stop government forces from advancing. The group has denied the claim.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has vowed the mission would “save the country and the region from spiraling into instability.”

Abiy said on Tuesday that a three-day deadline given to rebel forces in Tigray to lay down their arms had ended, warning of a final push to retake Mekelle.

Abiy ordered the army offensive in the restive Tigray region early this month, in response to a deadly attack on an army base that killed at least 54 people from the ethnic Amhara group in the Oromia region.

Abiy accused the TPLF — the region’s ruling party — of having staged the attack.

Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has resisted calls by the United Nations, the African Union, and various countries for talks with the armed rebels in the north.

The conflict has left hundreds dead and forced around 25,000 Ethiopians to flee across the border into Sudan. The crisis also risks destabilizing the wider Horn of Africa region.

Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, is now faced with the massive influx. UN agencies were mobilizing resources and trying to assist the refugees, who have been arriving in growing numbers with few possessions.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the region.

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