Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has ordered the country’s army to initiate a final attack against Tigray’s leaders in their regional capital Mekele, saying the time given for them to surrender has elapsed.
“The Ethiopian National Defence Forces have now been directed to conclude the third and final phase of our rule of law operations,” Abiy said in a statement on Twitter.
“In this final phase, great care will be given to protect innocent civilians from harm. All efforts will be made to ensure that the city of Mekele, which was built through the hard work of our people, will not be severely damaged.”
Abiy, who is also the winner of last year’s Nobel Prize, gave the Tigray People’s Liberation Front 72 hours to surrender starting from last Sunday. However, the leader of the dissident northern region, whose forces have been fighting Ethiopian troops for three weeks refused the order.
Ethiopia’s army said it was encircling the city with tanks ahead of an assault on the TPLF. Rights groups have warned that attacking the city could violate international law.
Abiy called on Mekele’s half a million inhabitants to “stay at home and stay away from military targets, and take all necessary precautions”, while asking them to hand over TPLF forces in their midst.
“We would like to assure you that our National Defence Forces have carefully devised a strategy to bring the TPLF criminal clique to justice, without harming innocent civilians, heritage sites, places of worship, development institutions and property,” he said.