The rebels bet on the capture of capital

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Rebel fighters in Ethiopia’s Tigray region continue to gain ground after recapturing the regional capital Mekelle from government forces.

The rebels have now entered the town of Shire, about 140 km (90 miles) to the northwest, according to UN officials.

Eritrean troops supporting the Ethiopian army had previously abandoned the city.

The government declared a ceasefire in the eight-month conflict, but the rebels vowed to drive their “enemies” out of Tigray.

Fighting between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) and government forces has left thousands dead.

More than two million have been displaced and pushed 350,000 to starvation.

Fighting began in November, when rebels rejected political reforms and captured military bases. Government forces captured Mekelle later this month.

There were scenes of jubilation in the streets of the capital on Tuesday, the day after the town was taken over by the rebels following a rapid offensive. The central government has called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” in the region.

Fighting between government troops and Tigrayan rebels has intensified in recent weeks

Rebel spokesman Getachew Reda told Reuters news agency Tigray fighters would “destroy the enemy” by entering Eritrea and Ethiopia’s Amhara region – whose militias also supported government forces.

“We have to make sure that the enemy (…) no longer has the capacity to threaten the security of our people,” he said.

The status of the Eritrean troops remains uncertain, although a resident of Shire told Reuters that the Eritreans appeared to be moving north, towards the border.

Rebels now control most of the region, the International Crisis Group research organization said.

A turning point?

Vivienne Nunis, BBC News, Nairobi

As the rebels regain control of Mekelle, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appears to have had few options when he unilaterally declared a ceasefire.

But by presenting the decision as a “humanitarian” decision, the Addis Ababa government is trying to save face.

And now ? The rebels have so far ignored the ceasefire, saying they intend to drive out all so-called “invading enemies.”

The international community will monitor whether the ceasefire marks a turning point and, in particular, whether humanitarian groups can now travel freely in the region to deliver supplies to millions of people in desperate need of food.

Tigray – the basics

  • Ethiopia is divided into 10 ethnically defined regional states described as largely autonomous, but with central institutions

  • In 2018, following anti-government protests, Abiy Ahmed took over and introduced reforms

  • Powerful politicians in Tigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost state, accused Abiy of trying to increase federal power

  • Relations deteriorated, and after the government accused Tigrayan rebels of attacking military bases, the Ethiopian military intervened in November.

  • Mr. Abiy said the conflict ended in late November, but fighting continued and escalated ahead of the June 21 national elections.



Children who fled violence in Ethiopia's Tigray region line up for breakfast in Mekelle

Over five million people in urgent need of food aid in region, UN says

All parties to the conflict have been accused of massacres and human rights violations.

On Tuesday, a senior US State Department official, Robert Godec, said Washington would not remain inactive in the face of the “horrific atrocities” committed in Tigray.

The UN said there was a famine situation in northern Ethiopia – a claim denied by the Ethiopian government.

map of Tigray showing the most affected areas

map of Tigray showing the most affected areas

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