Ethiopian government troops will soon launch a "final and crucial" offensive in the country’s northern Tigray region after security forces there failed to respond to a deadline to surrender, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Tuesday. "The three-day deadline given for Tigray special forces and the greedy junta to surrender themselves has expired today," Abiy said in a statement. "Now the deadline has expired so that the final and crucial law enforcement operation will be conducted in the coming days," he added. Fighting between the Addis Ababa administration and the Tigray region began in early November after Abiy ordered soldiers to put down an uprising by the region’s ruling political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The party is now classed as a rebel group by the government.
Since taking office in 2018, Abiy — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work to improve relations with neighboring Eritrea — has been at loggerheads with the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for a long time. Among other things, he has purged Tigray elites from government and state institutions amid differences fueled by ethnic tensions. In particular, the Ethiopian government was angered after the TPLF held a local election in September in defiance of Addis Ababa. In its turn, the regional government in Tigray considers the federal government illegal, saying its mandate has expired after national elections were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing conflict has already resulted in the massacre of "scores, and likely hundreds" of civilians in Tigray, according to rights group Amnesty International. Some 25,000 have fled to Sudan.
Abiy’s remarks come after the Ethiopian army on Monday carried out fresh airstrikes on the regional capital of Mekele. A government statement on Tuesday said "precision-led and surgical air operations" had targeted "specific critical TPLF targets." Ethiopia has denied reports of there being civilian casualties. The UN has warned that the conflict could "spiral totally out of control" with disastrous consequences for the Horn of Africa. The TPLF has accused Ethiopia of enlisting Eritrean soldiers to help in the conflict, which Ethiopia also denies. Abiy has so far rejected all appeals by the international community to resolve the conflict with dialogue.
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