Ethiopia’s military has gained “full control” of the capital of the defiant Tigray region, the army announced Saturday, after the Tigray government reported that the city of a half-million people was being “heavily bombarded” in the final push to arrest the region’s leaders.
“God bless Ethiopia and its people!” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement declaring that the taking of Mekele marked the “completion” of the military offensive that started nearly four weeks ago. “We have entered Mekele without innocent civilians being targets,” he said.
Now, he said, police will pursue the arrest of the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who run the region and dominated Ethiopia‘s ruling coalition before Abiy came to power in 2018 and sidelined them among the sweeping reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Abiy’s government has since accused the TPLF of inciting unrest in the country and seeking to reclaim power, and each government regards the other as illegal. Abiy had rejected dialogue with the TPLF leaders over the last month, including during a Friday meeting with three African Union special envoys.
“We now have ahead of us the critical task of rebuilding what has been destroyed…with the utmost priority of returning normalcy to the people of the Tigray region,” Abiy said.
Some Ethiopians at home and in the diaspora rejoiced at the news that Mekele was under the military’s control. “Praise God for his mercy upon us. Thanks to the Almighty God our creator. Amen. Let peace prevail in Ethiopia!!!” former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn tweeted.
The weeks of fighting have threatened to destabilize Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa, and its neighbors.
As international alarm has grown since the fighting began on Nov. 4, so has a massive humanitarian crisis. The Tigray region of 6 million people has been cut off from the world as the military pursued what Abiy called a “law enforcement operation” with airstrikes and tanks.