The Ethiopian army has seized control over the northern provincial capital of Makelle in Tigray region and freed some of its officers held hostage during the three-weeklong military assault, Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy announced in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, on Saturday.
“The Federal Government is fully in control of Makelle with the full command of the regional capital,” Prime Minister Abiy said.
He said the Federal police would begin the work of clearing the region and apprehending members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who were involved in the conflict in the region.
“This marks the completion of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces last phase of the conflict,” Abiy said in a statement declaring victory in the operation.
The military managed to sweep the regional capital, taking control of the Northern Command, which was attacked hours before a full-scale military assault on the region was declared.
Prime Minister Abiy said the authorities are in full control of the camp, the airport and public institutions, including the regional administrative offices.
Earlier, UN agencies said since the Ethiopian government launched the third and final phase of their “law enforcement operations” towards Mekelle city, capital of Tigray region, a city of more than 500,000 people earlier in the week, the region had been tense.
The launch came following the expiration of a 72-hour grace period granted the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to surrender.
The UN Humanitarian Office for Ethiopia (OCHA) reported that tension remained high in Mekelle in anticipation of the military action announced by the Government.
Human rights oganizations have raised concern over further disruption to essential services, particularly for the 850,000 people already dependent on relief assistance, including 96,000 refugees in Tigray. Humanitarian actors have reported urgent needs in food, water, and shelter in affected areas in Sudan and Ethiopia.
In Tigray, only five days’ worth of food supplies is available to assist 96,000 refugees who depend on humanitarian aid to survive, according to OCHA. About 5,000 new arrivals have been received in eastern Sudan since 22 November, bringing the total number of asylum seekers from Ethiopia to more than 42,600, as of 25 November.
On 26 November, the federal government of Ethiopia announced the intention to scale-up humanitarian assistance to the affected population in Tigray by opening a humanitarian access route managed by the Ministry of Peace.
Prime Minister Abiy said the priority of the government is to ensure the resettlement of those who fled the military operation.
Ethiopian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Redwan Hussein, said after taking charge of the airport and several locations in Mekele under its control, the NDF is still facing some sort of shooting from the TPLF fighters.
“Thousands of soldiers who had been subdued during the unwarranted attack waged against our Northern Command have just been freed. Those who died of injuries and of the dire condition they were kept in have been buried,” Redwan said.
Redwan, who is also the head of the Special Task Force set up to liberate the province, said the major part of the operation has been successfully completed.
“What remains is tackling sporadic shootings by the scattered remnants of the militia and special forces within the city neighborhoods,” Redwan said in a statement posted on social media.
He said the National Defence Forces have taken maximum care to spare every town and city. No strike has been carried out within towns and cities.
He said, instead, the army had to make a wider detour to encircle towns and cut off the militia and special force of TPLF from its higher command so that its members could easily surrender or mingle with the community since most of them were conscripted under duress.
He also said maximum care was taken to save Mekele and its inhabitants even though churches, schools and densely populated neighborhoods were turned into armament stores and launching pads.
“Now that Mekele, by and large, has fallen to the hands of NDF, humanitarian corridor will be opened in all directions apart from access route which has already been created.
“The major task that lies ahead therefore is to begin rebuilding Tigray, Redwan said.
He said the infrastructure destroyed by the fleeing TPLF militia needed quick attention even to transport humanitarian assistance and government would immediately begin rehabilitation work. (PANA/NAN)