As the Ethiopian army prepares for a final push into the regional capital of Tirgray, a military spokesman warned civilians in the besieged area that there will be “no mercy” if they don’t “save themselves”.
Military spokesman Col. Dejene Tsegaye said late on Saturday that “from now on, the fighting will be a tank battle”, asserting that the army was marching on the Tigray capital, Mekelle, and would encircle it with tanks.
Human Rights Watch on Sunday said that threatening a whole civilian population could violate international law.
Col. Tsegaye said that “our people in Mekelle should be notified that they should protect themselves from heavy artillery.”
He accused the Tigray leaders of hiding among the population of the city of roughly a half-million people and warned civilians to “steer away” from them.
But “treating a whole city as a military target would not only unlawful, it could also be considered a form of collective punishment,” Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader tweeted Sunday.
“In other words, war crimes,” former US national security adviser Susan Rice tweeted.
Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, in a new statement is giving the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front 72 hours to surrender, saying that “you are at a point of no return.”
Abiy accused the TPLF leaders of using religious sites, hotels, schools “and even cemeteries” as hideouts and using Mekelle residents as human shields.
For days, Abiy’s government has asserted it was marching to Mekelle in a final push to end the deadly conflict that erupted on Nov 4 between the federal government and the heavily armed Tigray regional government.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for a quarter century before Abiy took office and introduced dramatic political reforms and sidelined TPLF leaders.
Now, each side regards each other as illegal, complicating international pleas for dialogue amid worries that one of Africa’s most powerful and populous nations could fracture and destabilise the strategic Horn of Africa.
With communications and transport to the Tigray region almost completely severed, it’s difficult to verify the warring sides’ claims.
Meanwhile, a vast humanitarian crisis is unfolding, with the United Nations saying about 2 million people in Tigray urgently need help as food, fuel, medical and other supplies run desperately short.
Two refugee crises are growing. Over 35,000 Ethiopians have fled into a remote area of Sudan, where local communities and humanitarians have struggled to feed and accommodate them.
Inside the Tigray region, the fighting has come close to camps that are home to nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea. Some of the Eritreans have now fled a second time, into Sudan. (Source: CNA)