In a dramatic turn of events on Saturday, units of the Federal Armed Forces entered and captured the city of Meqelle, over three weeks after a military confrontation in Tigray Regional State began. Late evening the same day, senior officials of the federal government, from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen and Army Chief of Staff Birhanu Jula (Gen.), made a series of statements announcing the landmark event in the bitter fight between forces of the Federal and Tigray regional governments.
“I’m pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region,” said Prime Minister Abiy, using the same social media platform where 26 days ago he announced to the country, and the world, the launching of military operations there.
The federal government has been undertaking military operations against forces of the Regional State’s militia and special forces in Ethiopia after the latter overran the Northern Command of the Defence Forces and took control of a stock of arsenals. There have been massive battles on a number of fronts, where casualties on both sides remain unreported. However, over 40,000 refugees made it to neighbouring Sudan, where reports of human rights atrocities against civilians surfaced. Forces in Tigray Regional State struck Asmera, the capital of Eritrea, twice; as well as Gonder once and Bahir Dar three times.
While the conflict was ongoing, a mass killing of over 600 people in Mai-Kadra, a town in the South-West Zone of Tigray Regional State, was reported. Leaders of both sides blame one another for these atrocities, disclosed by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International.
World leaders urged Ethiopia’s leaders to show restraint and caution when conducting the final military assault on the city to safeguard the civilian population estimated at over half a million.
However, aired by state broadcaster Ethiopian Broadcast Corporation (EBC), Chief of Staff Birhanu said no casualties occurred to residents of Meqelle during the operation, and residents remained in their homes when the Defense Forces took over the city.
The Army has also liberated over 7,000 members of the Northern Command that were held hostage by the TPLF [Tigray People’s Liberation Front], according to Berhanu, who said that the Defence Forces are now in complete control of Meqelle. “The people of Tigray should be the most overjoyed at this victory.”
While the Army Chief of Staff said the Defense Forces “fully controlled” the city, Redwan Hussein, spokesperson of the state of emergency secretariat, announced that ”essential parts” of Meqelle, such as the airport and “several locations” have fallen under the control of the Defense Forces.
According to Prime Minister Abiy, the Defense Forces are in control of the Northern Command Camp, the airport, public institutions, and the regional administration office.
Prior to launching the latest military offensive last week, Prime Minister Abiy had issued a 72-hour ultimatum to the regional forces to surrender or face a military offensive in the state’s capital of Meqelle. He set out three goals to the military operation he ordered on November 3, 2020: Disarming the TPLF, bringing its leaders to trial, and installing a provisional administration until elections are held in the Regional State. The forces under his command are at the cusp of achieving the first goal and providing the security condition to move onto the third. It is not clear whether the TPLF leaders have surrendered to fulfill the second goal.
It was difficult to establish — up until press time — what might have transpired during the late evening of Saturday before the advent to Meqelle of Federal Forces. However, it appears that there was no fighting in the city, after a possible withdrawal of TPLF political and military leaders and its forces from the city, according to sources. If such is the case, the capture of Meqelle signals the return of the TPLF to its years of insurgency prior to 1991. Officials from the federal government were not available for comment.
A recent report by the United States Institute for Peace warns that while the fighting of the last few weeks may have significantly degraded the TPLF’s military capacity, it is unlikely that the federal government can entirely subdue the TPLF as a political entity.
”The TPLF’s historic capacity to wage guerrilla warfare from the rural mountains of Tigray may not be definitively eroded by its losses in conventional warfare,” says the report.
There has been a complete communications blackout in the Regional State since the military operations began. Television broadcasts from the Regional State have also ceased transmission as of the end of last week.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has also announced that the Defence Forces have completed and ceased the military operations.
What lies ahead is rebuilding the damaged infrastructure in the Regional State, while returning and rehabilitating the tens of thousands of refugees back to their homes will be top priorities, according to the Prime Minister.
“Our focus now will be on rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance while Federal Police apprehend the TPLF clique,” Prime Minister Abiy tweeted on Saturday.
The hot pursuit of suspects has already begun. Early last week, the Office of the Attorney General announced 167 individuals are suspected of alleged crimes linked to the incident in Tigray Regional State and are to face criminal charges including high treason, armed rebellion, outrage against the Constitution, acts of terrorism related to firing rockets and hostile acts against a friendly country, Attorney General Gedion Timothewos (PhD) disclosed last week.
The parliament has also removed the immunity of 39 parliamentarians, including Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), TPLF chairperson and president of the Regional State.
Ethiopia’s parliament has legislated a bill that declared a six-month state of emergency in the Regional State. The House of Federation also approved the federal government’s intervention in Tigray Regional State and the formation of a provisional administration that will appoint new officials, hold elections, and execute orders from the federal government. The Provisional Administration was set up by the federal government, tasked with the governance of the Regional State replacing all zonal and regional heads. Under its recently appointed Chief Executive, Mulu Nega (PhD), the Provisional Administration has drafted a charter that has listed the roles and responsibilities for the administration, pending final approval.
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