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Ethiopia’s army plans to enter Tigray capital, ‘eliminate’ rebels: Top military official

Members of Amhara Special Forces are seen along a street in Humera Town, Ethiopia, on July 1, 2021. (File photo by Reuters)

Ethiopia’s military is planning to enter Mekelle, the capital of Tigray province, in an attempt to “eliminate” rebellious forces there, a top military official says, as diplomatic efforts are underway to end a persisting conflict in the northernmost flash point.

Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) Deputy Army Chief General Abebaw Tadesse made the announcement during an interview with state-affiliated media outlet Fana aired late on Friday, stressing that the African country would not be at peace until the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was eliminated.

“Tigray is part of Ethiopia and no force will stop us from entering. We will enter and we will eliminate the enemy. There shouldn't be any confusion about this.”

Tigray has been the scene of conflict since November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops there to topple the TPLF, the political party that controls Tigray, in response to attacks on army camps.

The war in Tigray has killed thousands of people, displaced more than two million, and pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions due to a de facto humanitarian blockade on the northern region.

“The people of Ethiopia shouldn't think that it is over, it is not over. The main thing here is we have stopped because we have to prepare ourselves. This enemy is still there, and it has to be absolutely eliminated. We will not negotiate with them,” Abebaw added.

On January 20, when an excerpt of the interview was broadcast, TPLF's spokesperson Getachew Reda tweeted, “We are not losing sleep over Abebaw’s plan!”

The TPLF had earlier accused the government’s air force of targeting civilians during the bombardment of the region. However, Air Force Chief Commander Yilma Merdasa on Friday denied the allegation, saying his forces have the technology to avoid doing so. “The claims by TPLF that our air force is targeting civilians is a lie,” he said on Ethiopian Broadcast Corporation television.

The TPLF claims that Abiy seeks to end the country's ethnically-based federal government system, while the premier stresses the TPLF is hungry to seize the national power it once held.

For the past several months, there has been an uneasy stalemate between the two warring sides, interrupted by sporadic fighting. Much of the volatile region is under the control of TPLF forces, but they are surrounded by hostile forces from the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, which are allied with the government forces.

The Ethiopian government has criticized Western governments for inaccurate coverage of the war.

Last year, the United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said her office was receiving ongoing reports of violations of human rights in the region, including indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes on civilians.

The Ethiopian government and the rebels have denied accusations of atrocities in the past.

Tensions between Addis Ababa and the UN have been high throughout the war. In September, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry announced it was expelling seven senior UN officials for “meddling” with the country’s affairs.

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