Troops ordered to move on Tigray capital, says Ethiopian PM

Ethiopia’s prime minister said Thursday the army has been ordered to move on the embattled Tigray regional capital after his 72-hour ultimatum for Tigray leaders to surrender ended, and he warned residents to stay indoors and disarm.

The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office means tanks and other weaponry can now close in on Mekele, a city of some half-million people. His government has warned of “no mercy” if residents don’t move away from the Tigray leaders in time.

The military offensive “has reached its final stage” after three weeks of fighting, the new statement said.

It asserts that thousands of Tigray militia and special forces surrendered during the 72-hour period. “We will take utmost care to protect civilians,” it says.

The United Nations has reported people fleeing the city, but communications and transport links remain severed to Tigray, and it’s not clear how many people in Mekele received the warnings.

The alarmed international community is calling for immediate de-escalation, dialogue and humanitarian access. Abiy on Wednesday, however, rejected international “interference.”

People who fled the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region walk at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan on Wednesday. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

It remains difficult to verify claims in the fighting that erupted Nov. 4 between Ethiopian forces and the heavily armed forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which once dominated Ethiopia’s government but has been sidelined under Abiy’s rule. The two governments now regard each other as illegal.

The UN says shortages have become “very critical” in the Tigray region as its population of six million remains sealed off.

Fuel and cash are running out, more than one million people are now estimated to be displaced and food for nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea will be gone in a week, according to a new report released overnight. And more than 600,000 people who rely on monthly food rations haven’t received them this month.

Travel blockages are so dire that even within Mekele the UN World Food Program cannot obtain access to transport food from its warehouses there.

Human Rights Watch is warning that “actions that deliberately impede relief supplies” violate international humanitarian law.

Refugees flee to Sudan

Another crisis is unfolding as more than 40,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled into a remote area of Sudan, where humanitarian groups and local communities struggle to feed, treat and shelter them. Nearly half the refugees are children under 18. Many fled with nothing.

“When it is cold, it hurts so much,” said one wounded refugee, Alam Kafa. “At night, I have to wrap tightly with a blanket so I can sleep. But I don’t sleep at night.”

“Just to imagine for everything, literally for everything, starting from your food, ending with your water drinking, ending just to go for the toilet facilities and washing your hands, for everything you depend on somebody else,” said Javanshir Hajiyev with aid group Mercy Corps. “This is really a very dire situation. I can’t stress how difficult it is.”

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