The Ethiopian central government has issued an ultimatum to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F.), reports the B.B.C., giving the Front 72 hours to surrender or else face an assault on the regional capital of Mekelle.
Mekelle is home to approximately 400,000 people, hundreds of which have died over the course of November. Thousands more have been displaced. An assault on the city could trigger a humanitarian crisis, the United Nations warns. The T.P.L.F., which refuses to acknowledge the central government as legitimate, has vowed to keep fighting.
Before the ultimatum was issued, the Ethiopian military had threatened to encircle and attack Mekelle with artillery fire should the T.P.L.F. refuse to capitulate.
“Your journey of destruction is coming to an end,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the T.P.L.F. in a November 22nd statement, “and we urge you to surrender peacefully within the next 72 hours, recognizing you are at a point of no return. Take this last opportunity.”
Since the military started their operation against the T.P.L.F. on November 4th, the region has been under a strict communications and transport blackout. This hampers the work of aid agencies, which are already under strain. According to the B.B.C., as many as 96,000 Eritrean refugees reside in Tigray. Human Rights Watch Director for the Horn of Africa Laetitia Bader says these restrictions prevent Human Rights Watch and other aid organizations from helping those in need, making them detrimental to civilian lives. “Federal and regional authorities should respect the right to life and take all necessary measures to assist and protect the population,” Bader says.
The blackout also makes verifying information coming from the region difficult. Although the central government’s offensive seems to be proving successful, both sides have claimed successes on the ground.
According to Human Rights Watch, the conflict began after Ethiopia’s government “reconfigured the ruling coalition, which was responsible for serious human rights abuses, into a single party and postponed highly anticipated national elections, citing COVID-19-related health risks.” An apparent T.P.L.F. attack on an Ethiopian military base triggered the government to begin military operations against Tigray.
The situation in Tigray is dire. As of November 10th, more than 14,000 Ethiopian refugees, half of them children, had crossed the border into Sudan. The scale of this crisis is incredible and is only likely to worsen.
The central government should heed calls for de-escalation and allow aid agencies to reach the people most in need, particularly in Mekelle, which has become a frontline in the conflict.
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