Ethiopia’s prime minister has given Tigrayan rebel forces 72 hours to surrender before the army begins an offensive on the capital of the wartorn region, The Guardian reported.
As army tanks gathered around the city of Mekelle, Abiy Ahmed posted a message on Twitter on Sunday night which read: “We urge you to surrender peacefully within 72 hours, recognizing that you are at the point of no return.”
Army chiefs earlier warned civilians in the capital of the wartorn Tigray region to “free themselves” from rebel leaders or be offered “no mercy” in a coming assault on the city.
The Ethiopian military said tanks would be deployed to encircle Mekelle, the highland capital of the northern Tigray region, and that it may also use artillery on the city, state media reported on Sunday.
Tigrayan made no comment on the ultimatum, but it will deepen international concerns as the conflict goes into its third week without any sign that hostilities will cease soon.
Ethiopian forces are advancing steadily from the north and south towards Mekelle, which lies on a plateau at an altitude of more than 2,500 metres.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed in the conflict so far and many more have been displaced. More than 36,000 have fled into neighbouring Sudan, and large numbers are on the move within Tigray to avoid the fighting. The warning to the half million inhabitants of Mekelle may prompt many to abandon their homes, adding to the growing humanitarian crisis.
“The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks, finishing the battle on mountainous areas and advancing to the fields,” Col Dejene Tsegaye told the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.
Tsegaye said the Ethiopian military had so far avoided any targets that might risk civilian casualties but said that in the case of Mekelle “it might be different”.