Civil war: heavy artillery as Ethiopian army marches on Tigray


Heavy shelling struck the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region on Saturday, the local government and humanitarian sources said, as the city of half a million braced for an attack against leaders of the regional ruling party.

Ethiopia’s military “has started hitting with heavy weaponry and artillery the centre of Mekele”, the local government said in a statement carried by Tigrayan media — a claim confirmed by two humanitarian officials with staff in the city.

“The Tigray regional state calls upon all who have a clear conscience, including the international community, to condemn the artillery and warplane attacks and massacres being committed,” the statement said.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, announced November 4 he had ordered military operations against Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

More than three weeks of fierce fighting has left thousands dead “including many civilians as well as security forces”, the International Crisis Group said Friday.

Tens of thousands of refugees have streamed over the border into Sudan, and rockets launched from Tigray targeted the capital of neighbouring Eritrea for a second time Friday night, exacerbating fears the conflict could draw in the wider Horn of Africa region.

Abiy announced Thursday that he had ordered a “final” offensive on TPLF leaders, and Ethiopia’s military says it has encircled the city.

A communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify claims from both sides about how the fighting is going.

A spokesperson for a crisis committee formed in response to hostilities in Tigray did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday about reported shelling in Mekele, which has already been hit by air strikes.

A spokesperson for Abiy’s office referred AFP to past statements indicating military operations would be undertaken “strategically” to avoid undue harm to civilians.

The Ethiopian army said Saturday it would take control of Mekele “within a few days”, according to a report from state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

The Ethiopian army has been locked in conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for weeks.

It says it hopes to seize the city from the TPLF within days, but will avoid harming its 500,000 civilians.

Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed, and thousands have been forced from their homes as Ethiopian forces have seized towns.

The Ethiopian military earlier said it had captured the town of Wikro, north of Mekelle, along with several other towns in the region.

Details of the fighting are hard to confirm because all phone, mobile and internet communications with the Tigray region have been cut.

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