Ethiopia Tigray crisis: Abiy issues ‘ultimatum’ as civilians flee fighting

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

(BBC) Ethiopia’s prime minister has said a military operation against rebel forces in the northern Tigray region is entering its “final phase”. Abiy Ahmed said a three-day deadline given for Tigray’s forces to surrender had now expired.

Hundreds of people have reportedly died in nearly two weeks of clashes between the rebels and the federal army. At least 27,000 people have fled to Sudan.

The UN has said a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding.

Getting information from Tigray is hard as there is a virtual communications blackout.

In a Facebook post, Mr. Abiy said the operation by the federal forces was nearing a conclusion.

“The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days,” the prime minister said.

He thanked TPLF fighters who, he said, had taken advantage of the deadline to switch sides but he did not give a number. Mr. Abiy added that his government was “ready to receive and reintegrate our fellow Ethiopians fleeing to neighbouring countries”.

Meanwhile, TPLF adviser Fesseha Tessema, a former Ethiopian diplomat, told the BBC that civilian sites in Tigray’s main city, Mekelle, were being bombed by federal forces.

“[The people of Tigray] haven’t done anything wrong, they are in their own homes, churches,” Mr. Fesseha said.

The federal government has denied targeting civilians and said that air attacks are aimed at the Tigrayan military.

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, has said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding” and thousands have been fleeing the fighting.

The agency was “on stand-by to provide assistance in Tigray when access and security allow” spokesman Babar Baloch said.

“There may be massive displacement inside Tigray and that is of course a concern and we try to prepare the best way possible,” Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said.

The UN fears the numbers fleeing Ethiopia may be just a fraction of those forced from their homes by the fighting, but for the moment aid agencies have no access to the Tigray region.

Regional powers Kenya and Uganda have called for negotiations to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The Ethiopian government has, however, ruled out talks with the TPLF.