Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says government forces have “completely taken control” of Mekelle, the capital of the northern region of Tigray.
He said troops had entered the city “in the final phase” of the conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front – but details were difficult to verify as there was a blackout.
The TPLF leader promised to “fight … to the end” in a statement to Reuters.
Hundreds were reported killed in the fighting and thousands were left homeless.
It started earlier this month after Mr Abiy announced a campaign against the TPLF, a regional group, accusing him of attacking an Ethiopian army commander north of Mekelle.
Federal security forces are now searching for TPLF leaders.
The BBC was able to speak briefly to a contact at Mekelle who said state troops were in the city and heard gunshots from time to time on Sunday morning. Some residents had fled to the outskirts of the city, he added.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to neighboring Eritrea said six gunshots had been fired in the capital, Asmara, late Saturday. Earlier Tigrayan troops had fired rockets into Eritrea, accusing them of supporting Ethiopian government forces in the weeks-long war. It is unclear whether the recent incidents in Asmara were related to the Tigray war.
What Did Government Say?
In a statement posted on Twitter, Mr Abiy said the army had completely taken control of Mekelle and this “signaled the completion of the [military] phase in the final phase”.
“I am pleased to announce that we have completed the cease-fire in the Tigray region,” he said.
The force has deployed thousands of troops captured by the TPLF and is in charge of the airport and regional offices, Mr Abiy said, adding that the operation was carried out with “proper civilian care”.
There have been fears for the safety of 500,000 people living in the city.
Mr Abiy’s statement said state troops would “continue their work of catching TPLF criminals and bringing them to justice”.
Verification details from Tigray are extremely difficult as telephone and internet lines have been down during the violence.
How has the TPLF responded?
In a text message to Reuters, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael did not comment directly on the situation, but said of government forces: “Their brutality may add to our determination to fight these invaders in the end.”
He added: “This is about protecting our right to self-determination.”
Mr Debretsion’s whereabouts are unknown.
What Did TPLD Say?
A TPLF statement read on Tigray TV in the region said: “Criminal bombings have resulted in deaths and injuries. The Tigray government has promised to take steps to retaliate for the brutal bombings.”
It also accused the Eritrean government of being involved in the attack on Mekelle.
Tigray TV and another channel from the region are now off the air.
Analysts say the TPLF may now be preparing to return to the mountains to start a terrorist war with the provincial government.
Human Rights Concerns
The UN has warned of possible war charges if Ethiopian troops attack Mekelle.
It also expressed concern about the lack of access for social workers.
Ethiopian authorities said on Thursday that the government’s “access to aid” would be opened, adding that it was “committed to working with UN agencies … to protect citizens and those in need”.
And on Thursday, Ethiopian troops were deployed near the Tigray-Sudan border, preventing people fleeing the violence from leaving the country, according to refugees.
The BBC’s Anne Soy, on the other side of the Sudanese border, has seen at least members of the Ethiopian army, which has led to a dramatic decline in the number of people crossing into Sudan.
At a meeting on Friday, Mr Abiy told African peacekeepers that civilians would be protected.
However, no peace talks were held, and delegates were not allowed to visit the Tigray.
The TPLF troops, heavily deployed in the military and well-trained local troops, are estimated to number about 250,000. Some analysts fear that the situation could turn into a terrorist debate – the TPLF will continue to attack government forces even if they take Mekelle.
Mr Debretsion said Tigray’s troops were “ready to die to defend our right to govern our region”.
Aid groups fear that the conflict could create a social crisis and stabilize the African Province.
Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission has accused a Tigrayan youth group of being responsible for the killings this month, claiming it has killed more than 600 non-Tigray people in the town of Mai-Kadra. TPLF has denied involvement.
Further Context About The Crisis
The dispute stems from a long-running feud between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, which was the country’s leading political party until Mr Abiy came to power in 2018 and introduced major reforms.
As Mr Abiy postponed national elections due to coronavirus in June, relations continued to deteriorate.
The TPLF said the government’s decision-making authority had expired, saying Mr Abiy had not been tested in the national election.
In September the party held its own election, which the government called “illegal”.