Ethiopia says military is ‘fully in control’ of Tigray capital after fight against opposition group

The Ethiopian military announced late Saturday night local time that it is fully in control of the capital city of the restive Tigray region hours after it launched an offensive in a fight against the opposition group Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

“The Federal government is now fully in control of the city of Mekelle,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement, referring to Tigray’s capital. “With full command of the regional capital, this marks the completion of the ENDF’s [Ethiopian National Defense Forces’] last phase. Federal police will now continue their task of apprehending TPLF criminals and bring them to the court of law.” 

The announcement follows a day of a full-on military campaign against the TPLF, which retains a foothold in Tigray after it was swept out of national power in 2018 and then sidelined by reforms under Abiy’s government.

Abiy’s government has accused the TPLF of stoking unrest and looking to reclaim power, citing an attack by the group on a military base in Tigray in early November. The opposition group maintains the strike was a preemptive attack.

The strike sparked nearly a month of fighting that is estimated to have killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands of residents.

Abiy indicated late this week that the military was planning on ramping up its operations against the TPLF, releasing a readout Friday of a meeting with African Union officials that said he informed them that the operation “would not last long.”

“The last peaceful gate which had remained open for the TPLF clique to walk through have now been firmly closed as a result of TPLF’s contempt for the people of Ethiopia,” Abiy warned in a Friday statement. 

Abiy has rejected dialogue with the TPLF and said in his statement Saturday that his government will now focus on helping Tigray recover from the intense round of fighting. 

“The main operation is successfully concluded. We now have ahead of us the critical task of rebuilding what has been destroyed; repairing what is damaged, returning those who have fled, with utmost priority of returning normalcy to the people of the Tigray region,” he said. 

The end of the fighting will return a semblance of stability to the Horn of Africa, a region in which Ethiopia has long been seen as a steady force adjacent to neighboring Somalia, which has been gripped by conflict for decades.

The TPLF has decades of experience fighting in the rugged terrain of the northern Ethiopian region, and experts had predicted that shortages in food, fuel, cash and medical supplies that started at the outset of the fighting could be exacerbated by a protracted clash between the group and Addis Ababa.

Western officials sounded the alarm over the fighting early Saturday, with Pope Francis saying he was appealing “to the parties in conflict so that the violence might ceases, life may be safeguarded and the populations can regain #peace.”

“The United States is gravely concerned about the worsening situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. We support the @_AfricanUnion efforts to initiate dialogue and restore peace. The parties must protect civilians and allow aid to reach refugees and all in need of help,” tweeted U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft.

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