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Ethiopian and Eritrean forces seize key Tigrayan city, say rebels

#Ethiopian #Eritrean #forces #seize #key #Tigrayan #city #rebels

Tigrayan rebels said Tuesday that Ethiopian and Eritrean forces had seized a key Tigrayan city, a move coinciding with UN warnings of a spiralling conflict and an “utterly staggering” toll on civilians.

“These invading forces have taken control for the moment of some areas including Shire,” the Tigray Central Command said in a statement, adding that the rebels were in a “life or death” struggle.

It said the joint forces had entered Shire, a strategic city of about 100,000 people which lies about 300 kilometres (180 miles) by road northwest of the Tigrayan capital Mekele, on Monday.

“The enemies are massacring our people with heavy weaponry/armaments in the areas it invades,” the statement said.

It is not possible to verify battlefield claims as Tigray is under a communications blackout and access to northern Ethiopia is restricted for journalists.

The conflict began in November 2020, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking federal army camps. 

The TPLF had dominated Ethiopia’s ruling political alliance for decades before Abiy took power in 2018 and sidelined the party.

Abiy’s military campaign has received the support of Eritrea, with which Ethiopia was at odds until a rapprochement that earned Abiy the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tigray and its six million people are virtually cut off from the outside world, facing dire shortages of fuel, food and medicines and lacking basic services, including communications and electricity.

An estimated two million people have been driven from their homes in northern Ethiopia and millions more are in need of aid, according to UN figures, with reports of widespread atrocities including massacres and rape. 

The death toll remains unknown. 

Fighting resumed between the warring sides in August, shattering a five-month truce that had allowed limited amounts of aid into the battered region.

Both sides blamed the other for firing first.

– UN warnings –

On Monday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the situation was “spiralling out of control”.

“Violence and destruction have reached alarming levels,” he said, calling for the “immediate withdrawal and disengagement” of Eritrean forces.

The European Union (EU), the United States and African Union (AU) have also issued urgent appeals for a halt to the fighting.

Abiy’s government said in a statement Monday it was “committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict through the AU-led peace talks,” without addressing the bloc’s call for a ceasefire the day before.

But the government also accused the TPLF of colluding with unnamed “hostile foreign powers.”

It said it would also pursue “defensive measures” to protect Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from internal and external threats.

“It is thus imperative that the Government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities, and installations in the region,” the government said.

The UN’s new high commissioner for human rights, Volker Tuerk, warned Tuesday of a “significant risk of escalation” as more troops and soldiers were mobilised in the conflict. 

Air and artillery strikes in Tigray since August have inflicted an “utterly staggering” toll on civilians, he said in a statement issued in Geneva. 

Among those killed in recent incidents was a staff member of the NGO International Rescue Committee, who was part of a team delivering humanitarian assistance to women and children.   

“Under international law, indiscriminate attacks or attacks deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects amount to war crimes,” Tuerk warned.

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