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19 Nov 2020 | 03:39 PM UTC

Government forces claim to be closing in on Mekelle (Tigray region) November 19

Ethiopia News Alert

Government forces claim to be closing in on Mekelle (Tigray region) on November 19; further operations likely

TIMEFRAME expected from 11/19/2020, 12:00 AM until 11/21/2020, 11:59 PM (Africa/Addis_Ababa). COUNTRY/REGION Tigray, Mekelle

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Event

The government of Ethiopia announced on Thursday, November 19, that federal forces are 'closing in' on Tigray's capital Mekelle. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the city, has not yet commented.

The announcement follows earlier reports on Thursday stating that an airstrike targeted a mountainous area on the outskirts of Mekelle. It was not immediately clear who carried out the airstrike and there was no official confirmation of casualties. 

Ethiopia's government announced on Tuesday, November 17, that its forces had made advances in the Shire area of Tigray region amid continued conflict between the Ethiopian government and forces loyal to the TPLF administration. Federal forces stated that they had also taken the areas of Chercher, Gugufto, Mehoni, and Raya in addition to destroying local bases used by the TPLF. Authorities claimed that government troops are now advancing on the state capital despite the TPLF's claims that fighting was ongoing in the vicinity of Alamata, which federal forces had previously claimed to have taken.

The drive on Mekelle comes following the elapsing of a three-day deadline set by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for the TPLF to surrender. On Monday, November 16, a number of airstrikes were carried out against the TPLF outside of the city. Foreign nationals were reportedly evacuated on Monday and Tuesday in convoys bound for Addis Ababa.

Further military clashes are likely in and around the Tigray region in the medium term, with a realistic possibility of civilian harm in major flashpoint areas.

Context

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he had ordered a military offensive in the Tigray Region on November 4, after accusing security forces aligned with the regional Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) administration of attacking Ethiopian National Defense Forces' (ENDF) positions in the state. The operation follows two years of escalating tensions between the TPLF and the federal government in Addis Ababa, which they had previously dominated before the appointment of Abiy as prime minister in 2018, amid claims that the region was being marginalized by his sweeping reforms program. However, tensions reached a high point in September when the TPLF staged their own local elections in the Tigray region in defiance of a decision by the government to suspend national polls due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The federal government subsequently declared the vote illegal and the upper house of Ethiopia's parliament voted to withhold budgetary subsidies to Tigray in early October. Amid the rising tensions, regional authorities had issued a statement on November 3 accusing Addis Ababa of planning a war in the Tigray region.

Although no official casualty figures have been confirmed, fatalities are reported to have rapidly reached the hundreds and have been rising as fighting continues. As well as intense fighting in western areas of the region, particularly around Dansheha and Humera, there have also been allegations of attacks on civilians in some areas. On November 12, rights group Amnesty International claimed that scores of civilians had been killed in the May Cadera area of the Tigray region on November 9, allegedly in a retaliatory attack by retreating TPLF-aligned forces. However, the incident has not been independently confirmed. The TPLF claimed responsibility for rocket attacks which targeted airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar (Amhara region) which occurred on November 13. The TPLF also confirmed that they had fired rockets at the Eritrean capital, Asmara, which targeted Asmara International Airport (ASM) on November 14.

Advice

Those in the Tigray region are advised to monitor developments in their area of operations and liaise with appropriate consular authorities. Travelers should avoid the Tigray Region and northern areas of the Amhara region whilst hostilities continue and heed any directives issued by local authorities.

 

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