Ethiopian federal troops are closing in on Tigray’s capital of Mekelle, Redwan Hussein, the government spokesperson for the state of emergency task force, told CNN on Wednesday.
As the fighting between Ethiopian and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) soldiers rages in the region for a second week, Redwan said that national defense forces have now taken control of Shire, northwest of Mekelle, and Alamata, south of the city.
“They are closing in but it will take about 100-200 km from several directions,” the spokesman said.
The Ethiopian government says TPLF forces destroyed four bridges on the road to Mekelle to stop national forces from advancing.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in the restive Tigray region on November 4 after accusing its ruling party, the TPLF, of attacking a federal army base in the northern region, which borders Eritrea and Sudan.
After announcing that it was “at war” with the TPLF, the federal army has since stepped up its military offensive, carrying out air strikes as part of Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Abiy’s “law enforcement operation,” which has led to clashes across the area.
Airstrikes near Mekelle are targeting military installations and no civilians have been killed, “as far as we know,” said Redwan. He accused TPLF forces of sheltering military equipment in schools, mosques and churches.
He provided no evidence to support the claim and CNN has been unable to able to verify due to a blackout on communications in the region.
Vow to fight on
Leaders in Tigray are refusing to surrender in the face of the alleged gains by the Ethiopian military.
In a statement posted by the TPLF on Facebook Wednesday, Tigrayan leaders vowed that “the people of Tigray will never kneel down to actions of aggressors,” as Abiy said that the deadline for them to surrender had expired.
“Tigray is now a hell to its enemies,” the statement read, claiming “remarkable victories” on the battlegrounds, directly contradicting the government claims.
The Tigrayan leaders also accused federal forces of killing innocent civilians while targeting churches and homes.
The government has denied targeting civilians and CNN has not been able to verify claims from either parties due to the communications blackout.
Hundreds of thousands of people in western Tigray have been displaced while internet, electricity and banking services continue to be shut down, the statement said. It added that since the fighting began, Tigray forces have managed to capture enemy tanks and heavy artillery.
“Tigray will be the graveyard of dictators and aggressors and not their playground,” the statement concluded.
In response, Billene Seyoum, the Ethiopian government spokesperson, told CNN that Ethiopia’s parliament had disbanded the government in Tigray, so they couldn’t respond.
“We cannot respond to statements on a Facebook page of an entity that does not exist,” she said.
Via CNN By Bethlehem Feleke and Eoin McSweeney, CNN