The Ethiopian government rejected an African attempt to mediate on Saturday, saying its troops had taken another city in its march against the rebel-held capital of the northern Tigray region.
More than two weeks into Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s offensive, the government says Tigrayan forces are bulldozing roads and destroying bridges to keep the advance in the regional capital, Mekelle, home to about half a million people.
The Tigrayans have promised “hell” to their forward-looking enemies. They have denied having destroyed bridges but were not available for comment on plowing roads.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, have died and more than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan since the November 4 conflict. The fighting has spread beyond Tigray, whose forces have fired rockets at the nearby Amhara region and the Eritrean nation, raising concerns. of a broader war and division of multiethnic Ethiopia.
Abiy’s government has said it will soon reach Mekelle after taking various surrounding cities. On Saturday, it said that Adigrat, about 116 km north of Mekelle, had also fallen.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) revolted that nine civilians had died among major deaths in artillery fire on the Adigrat.
The government could not be reached immediately for comment, but has previously repeatedly refused to target civilians.
Allegations from all sides are difficult to verify because telephone and internet connections have been down since the beginning of the conflict and the media are largely excluded.
Eritrea denies TPLF allegations that it has sent troops across the border to support Abiy’s offensive against the Tigrayan forces, which is also an old enemy of Eritrea.
On Friday, the African Union bloc appointed former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys to seek a ceasefire and mediation talks.
Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea, aims to capture TPLF leaders before speaking.
“News circulating that envoys will travel to Ethiopia to mediate between the federal government and the TPLF’s criminal elements is false,” the government tweeted on Saturday.
Abiy accuses Tigrayan leaders of rebelling against central government and attacking federal troops in the city of Dansha. The rebels say Abiy’s government has marginalized and persecuted migrants since taking office two years ago.
Abiy denies this, saying he is only trying to restore law and order and preserve the unity of Ethiopia and its 115 million people.
On Saturday, the government released a video of a room with Tigrayan soldiers holding a meeting on the conflict. Soldiers listen to a loudspeaker and take turns talking to the camera.
Billene Seyoum, the spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said all the soldiers were active Tigray soldiers and that the meeting was part of a campaign to ensure that the military was not affiliated with any political party or ethnic group.
In the video, a soldier says that the military has been like a family member of the Tigrayan people. Several condemn attacks on the military; it says “dividing the military along ethnic lines in such a way is completely unacceptable”.
Tigray forces were not immediately available to comment on the video.
Aid workers say the conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where many of the more than 5 million people were already displaced and relying on food aid even before the conflict.
Satellite images from US-based space company Maxar Technologies showed destroyed buildings along the main road near Dansha airport, where the government says there was a November 4 surprise attack on federal troops.
TPLF is popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Abiy took office. Abiy’s parents come from the larger ethnic groups Oromo and Amhara.
“We will do everything necessary to ensure stability in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and need,” the Prime Minister tweeted on Saturday.
Across the border into Sudan, the UN plans for a possible arrival of 200,000 refugees.
“The situation is very serious,” said Jens Hesemann, coordinator of the rescue service for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), from Hamdayet’s crossing point and appeals for urgent donor assistance.