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28 Nov 2020 | 06:33 AM UTC

Ethiopia: Federal forces begin offensive to capture Mekelle (Tigray region) November 28 /update 17

Ethiopian federal forces begin offensive to capture Mekelle on November 28 amid Tigray region conflict; monitor developments

security
ETH

Event

The leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) have stated that Ethiopian federal forces have commenced their offensive to capture the regional capital of Tigray, Mekelle, on Saturday, November 28, amid an ongoing conflict between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government. According to the TPLF, federal forces are bombarding Mekelle. A spokesperson for the government stated that civilian areas would not be targeted. The development comes amid what the government describes as the "final phase" of its operations in the region, after an ultimatum for the TPLF to surrender expired on Wednesday, November 25. Federal forces have reportedly surrounded the city with the government advising residents to remain in their homes. On Friday, November 27, government forces claimed to have captured the town of Wikro, some 50 km (30 miles) north of Mekelle, however; communication issues and restricted access in the conflict region have made verifying the claims of both sides difficult.

Further military clashes are likely in and around the Tigray region in the medium term, with a realistic possibility of civilian harm in major flashpoint areas.

Context

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he had ordered a military offensive in the Tigray Region on November 4, after accusing security forces aligned with the TPLF administration of attacking Ethiopian National Defense Forces' (ENDF) positions in the state. The operation follows two years of escalating tensions between the TPLF and the federal government in Addis Ababa, which they had previously dominated before the appointment of Abiy as prime minister in 2018, amid claims that the region was being marginalized by his sweeping reforms program. However, tensions reached a high point in September when the TPLF staged their own local elections in the Tigray region in defiance of a decision by the government to suspend national polls due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The federal government subsequently declared the vote illegal and the upper house of Ethiopia's parliament voted to withhold budgetary subsidies to Tigray in early October. Amid the rising tensions, regional authorities had issued a statement on November 3 accusing Addis Ababa of planning a war in the Tigray region.

Although no official casualty figures have been confirmed, fatalities are reported to have rapidly reached the hundreds and have been rising as fighting continues. As well as intense fighting in western areas of the region, particularly around Dansheha and Humera, there have also been allegations of attacks on civilians in some areas. On November 12, rights group Amnesty International claimed that scores of civilians had been killed in the May Cadera area of the Tigray region on November 9, allegedly in a retaliatory attack by retreating TPLF-aligned forces. However, the incident has not been independently confirmed. The TPLF claimed responsibility for previous rocket attacks that targeted airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar (Amhara region) which occurred on November 13, in addition to similar attacks against the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

Advice

Those in the Tigray region are advised to monitor developments in their area of operations and liaise with appropriate consular authorities. Travelers should avoid the Tigray Region and northern areas of the Amhara region whilst hostilities continue and heed any directives issued by local authorities.

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