Ethiopian soldiers supported by regional forces have recaptured territory from rebellious Tigrayan fighters, the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday, as a resident in one village told Reuters that Tigrayan forces had left his village.
The announcement of territorial gains in Amhara follows news over the weekend that government forces had recaptured the town of Chifra in Afar region after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed left the capital Addis Ababa to direct fighting from the frontlines last week.
Gains by the military in Afar and Amhara would be a blow to Tigrayan forces, who had threatened to either advance further southwards through Amhara and march on the capital, or march eastwards and threaten a road linking landlocked Ethiopia to the region’s main port.
The year-old conflict between the federal government and the leadership of the northern region of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes, and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.
Abiy’s office tweeted that Ethiopian soldiers now controlled the town of Shewa Robit, 220 km (136 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa, and eight other towns and villages. It said Mezezo, Molale, Rasa areas were liberated from TPLF forces.
Getachew Reda, the spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, was not available for comment.
Reuters spoke to a resident in the village of Gragne Amba, 25 km (15 miles) southwest from the town of Lalibela, a U.N. World Heritage site home to famous rock-hewn churches, who said Tigrayan forces had left her village yesterday.
“I thought they were joking and TPLF fighters said ‘Many of Abiy’s soldiers are coming,'” she told Reuters. “This morning we saw Amhara special forces. They told us they are here for us and they tried to comfort us.”
She said the Amhara forces had left in the direction of Lalibela on Wednesday morning, and residents coming from that direction said the Tigrayan forces had left there too.
Reuters spoke to two people who originally lived in Lalibela and fled the fighting, who said relatives had called and said Tigrayan forces had left the town. The phone network in the town was down, they said, but relatives were able to go to an area near the airport that had a bit of mobile phone reception.
Reuters was unable to reach anyone in Lalibela to independently confirm those accounts.
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said he was awaiting information from the military.
Editing by William Maclean