The interim government of the war-ravaged Tigray region of Ethiopia fled their posts on Monday as rebels approached the local capital, an official said, marking a turning point in the nearly eight-month-old conflict.
The war in Tigray started last November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to oust the dissident regional leadership and promised a quick victory.
But fierce fighting has continued, leading to a humanitarian crisis that has left 350,000 people on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.
The rebels, who call themselves the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), launched a major offensive last week to coincide with Ethiopia’s highly anticipated national elections.
An interim official told AFP on Monday that the Abiy-appointed interim government has chosen to leave their posts in Tigray’s capital Mekele as TDF fighters approached “on all sides”.
“Everyone has left. The last ones left in the afternoon… The region has no government,” said the official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
A humanitarian official confirmed the departure of the interim government.
“The interim officers left this morning,” the humanitarian official said, also on condition of anonymity.
Several witnesses said federal soldiers and police also fled Mekele on Monday, and the humanitarian official said shots could be fired early Monday night.
“From the way the community is reacting, it seems…maybe the troops have withdrawn here,” the official said.
Abiy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
However, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said Abraham Belay, head of the interim government, had called for a ceasefire.
“Tigray interim government asks the federal government to agree to a ceasefire based on the humanity of the federal government and in a way that does not lead to more damage,” Abraham quoted the report as saying.