ADDIS ABABA (Somaliguardian) – The Ethiopian military will launch the “final phase” of an offensive in northern Tigray region, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday, hours after ultimatum for Tigray forces to lay down arms expired.
The Ethiopian federal government set 72-hour deadline for Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to lay down their arms and surrender or face final assault on Mekelle, a highland regional capital which is home to more than 500,000 people.
“The 72-hour period granted to the criminal TPLF clique to surrender peacefully is now over and our law enforcement campaign has reached its final stage,” Abiy tweeted, adding that civilians would not be harmed and thousands of fighters had already surrendered, a claim TPLF has reportedly denied.
Thousands of people including civilians have been killed since the military offensive the country’s PM termed as a “law enforcement” operation swung into action on November 4. The war has sent tens of thousands to neighboring Sudan and rights groups raise concerns for civilians still caught up in warzone areas.
More than 43,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled over the border to Sudan, though the influx has dropped in recent days, according to the UN refugee agency. Ethiopian refugees in Sudan have told aid workers that other Ethiopians fleeing conflict have been prevented from crossing.
It is yet unknown who in Ethiopia was blocking refugees from crossing but aid workers at the border crossing point of Hamdayet in Sudan said they saw Ethiopian soldiers on Wednesday shouting at refugees that it was safe to return home.
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