Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has announced the ending of military operations in the northern Tigray region after the army said it was in “full control” of the regional capital, Mekelle.
There was no immediate comment on Saturday from forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who have been fighting federal troops for more than three weeks.
“The federal government is now fully in control of the city of Mekelle,” Abiy said in a statement posted on his Twitter page. “I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region.”
Mekelle under command of the National Defense Forces pic.twitter.com/rj8GbK3ii8
— Abiy Ahmed Ali 🇪🇹 (@AbiyAhmedAli) November 28, 2020
It followed a statement saying the same from Birhanu Jula, the army chief of staff, on the military’s official Facebook page.
Earlier in the day, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael had said Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people, was under “heavy bombardment”. A diplomat in direct contact with residents also said federal forces had begun an offensive to capture Mekelle.
Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray have been cut and access has been tightly controlled since fighting began on November 4.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from neighbouring Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, said if Mekelle was indeed under the control of Ethiopia’s army “it would suggest that the large numbers of fighters and substantial military hardware that the TPLF is widely believed to control had actually already been tactically retreated into the nearby mountains.
He added: “It would appear that they’ve chosen not to use the resources that they have to fight to control the city. This would certainly be a relief for many people – rights groups and others have been warning about a potential disaster if there had been heavy fighting and shelling on the city.”
The government had given the TPLF an ultimatum that expired on Wednesday to surrender or face an assault on the city.
But a TPLF official told Al Jazeera earlier this week that the fall of Mekelle would not spell the end of their fight.
“Our forces still control much of rural Tigray, and our governing structure remains intact in these areas,” said Fesseha Tessema. “There’s no military solution, only a negotiated political one.”
Thousands of people are believed to have died and some 43,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Sudan during the conflict.