The Ethiopian army said that it will gain control, in the coming days, of the city of Mekelle, the capital of the country’s northern Tigray region.
The move is likely to come following Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s announcement of the start of the “last phase” of the attack on the region by federal forces.
In a statement, Head of the Ethiopian Defence Forces’ training unit, Hassan Ibrahim, said that federal forces had taken control of the town of Wagro, 50 km north of Mekelle. He added that they would take control of the capital “within a few days.”
He also said that government forces took control of several other towns, Reuters reported.
A statement from the US Embassy in neighbouring Eritrea, early on Saturday, said that a “loud noise, possibly an explosion” was heard in the capital, Asmara, on Friday evening.
It is reported that missiles fired by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) landed in Eritrea on 14 November. Thousands are believed to have been killed in the conflict between the two sides in Ethiopia, as well as widespread destruction, as a result of air strikes and ground fighting. A further 43,000 refugees have fled to Ethiopia’s northerly neighbour, Sudan.
Last week, the Ethiopian government gave the TPLF a chance to lay down arms or face an attack on Mekelle, which has a population of 500,000. This deadline expired last Wednesday.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmed announced that the army had begun the “final phase” of the offensive. He also told African peace envoys, on Friday, that his government would protect civilians in Tigray.
Meanwhile, a letter sent to embassies in Addis Ababa on Friday warned respective military attachés that they would be subject to expulsion if they contacted enemies of Ethiopia, whom he did not identify by name.
The letter said, “Some military attaches are working with those who threaten the security of the country, and are blacklisted and wanted by a court order.”
“We will expel those who do not refrain from these acts … those who communicate with these extremist groups,” the letter added, signed by General Bolti Tadesse, a foreign relations official with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Defence.