Rockets launched from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region were aimed at the Eritrean capital several hours after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared military operations in the region over, diplomats told AFP on Sunday.
It was still impossible to independently verify whether the regional capital of Mekele was completely under federal government control, even though a military spokesman told AFP operations “very well”.
The US embassy in the Eritrean capital Asmara reported early on Sunday that “six explosions” had occurred in the city “at 22:13” on Saturday.
Two Addis Ababa-based diplomats told AFP that several rockets appeared to have been aimed at Asmara’s airport and military installations.
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It marked the third time Asmara has been shot by Tigray since Abiy ordered military operations against leaders of the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
TPLF has only taken responsibility for the first attack two weeks ago.
It said Asmara was a legitimate target because Ethiopia hired Eritrean military support for its campaign in Tigray, which Ethiopia denies.
As with the previous attacks, it was unclear where the rockets landed and what damage they may have caused.
Eritrea is one of the world’s most secretive countries and the government has not commented on the strikes.
Abiy, last year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, announced on November 4 that he was sending federal troops to Tigray in response to attacks by pro-TPLF forces on federal army camps.
The move marked a dramatic escalation of tensions between Abiy and the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before anti-government protests swept Abiy to his office in 2018.
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Thousands have died in the fighting and tens of thousands of refugees have fled across the border into Sudan.
On Saturday night, Abiy declared that military operations in Tigray were “complete” after the army claimed control of the regional capital Mekele, a city of half a million before the conflict broke out.
Tigray has been blacked out throughout the conflict and access to the media has been limited, making it impossible to verify Abiy’s claim.
Some news is filtered out of the city on Sunday also through official channels.
A military spokesman, Secretary-General Mohamed Tessema, told AFP that the operations continued “very well” and that soldiers “did their job in peace”, but said he could not give any details.
State television stuck to its usual Sunday programming of talks and music programs, while Tigray’s regional television did not appear to broadcast at all.
The lack of clarity about the situation in Mekele does not rule out any small-scale celebrations Saturday night in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital and the city of Gondar, in the Amhara region south of Tigray.
“People were out celebrating all night. They fired their weapons into the air until midnight and people shouted, ‘We won!’ “, Says Edom Asmare in Gondar.
Amhara and Tigray have been involved in land disputes for decades, and Amhara’s special forces have played a key role in securing parts of Tigray that are now under federal control.
The TPLF has significant military assets, and at the beginning of the conflict analysts estimated it to mobilize 200,000 troops.
After securing control of western Tigray and giving TPLF leaders a 72-hour ultimatum for capitulation, Abiy announced on Thursday that he had ordered a “final offensive” on Mekele.
Global fears arose over a massacre and heavy shelling was reported in Mekele earlier on Saturday.
But in the government’s story, there was actually some fighting, which indicates that TPLF leaders chose to withdraw.
Abiy said on Saturday that police were working to arrest the party leadership, who could not be reached on Sunday, where they were unknown.
The TPLF has previously promised to fight as long as pro-Abiy forces have some form of presence in Tigray, and analysts have warned that it may shift tools to adopt rebellious style.
Abiy also said his government would focus on rebuilding Tigray and providing six million humanitarian aid to the population.
Relocation is believed to be widespread in the region, which has been hit by several rounds of airstrikes and at least one massacre that killed hundreds of civilians.
The UN has spent weeks in lobbying – so far without success – for full access.
Laetitia Bader, head of Human Rights Watch in the Horn of Africa, said it was clear the conflict had taken a “heavy toll”, although the details remained unknown.
“The UN should conduct an independent international inquiry into abuses committed by all sides since the beginning of the conflict, with a view to enforcing accountability,” she said.