Ethiopia: Tigray leader rejects surrender ultimatum, says people are ‘ready to die’ | World news

The leader of Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region has said his people are “ready to die” defending their homeland, rejecting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s ultimatum that they surrender within 72 hours.

Abiy launched a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on 4 November, accusing it of attacking two federal military camps in the northern region, as well as defying and seeking to destabilise his government.

The federal army says its forces are within 60km (37 miles) of Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital and seat of the TPLF, ahead of a threatened all-out bombardment of the city of half a million people.

Ethiopia/ Tigray map

Abiy – last year’s Nobel peace prize winner – on Sunday called on the TPLF to surrender peacefully within three days, saying they were “at a point of no return”.

But the TPLF’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said Abiy was trying to cover for setbacks his army had suffered against Tigrayan forces, and was issuing threats to buy time. “He doesn’t understand who we are. We are people of principle and ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region,” Debretsion told AFP via WhatsApp on Monday.

A communications blackout in the region has made claims from both sides difficult to verify.

Why is Ethiopia facing civil war? – video explainer

On Monday, Brigadier General Tesfaye Ayalew, was quoted by state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate saying that federal troops were “marching into Mekelle”, having captured key towns to the north and south.

The army has threatened a “no mercy” tank assault on the TPLF leadership in Mekelle, warning civilians to leave while they still can, raising concerns among rights activists.

“Treating a whole city as a military target would not only (be) unlawful, it could also be considered a form of collective punishment,” Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader wrote on Twitter.

Abiy has urged the people of Mekelle to side with the national army against the TPLF, “in bringing this treasonous group to justice”.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in nearly three weeks of fighting which has seen warplanes bomb the region and tanks enter the fray.

Amnesty International also documented a gruesome massacre in which “scores and likely hundreds” of people were stabbed and hacked to death in the southwest town of Mai-Kadra.

Over 40,000 Ethiopians have meanwhile fled west into Sudan and rockets have hit Eritrea to the north, spurring fears the internal conflict risks instability beyond its borders.

The UN Security Council will hold its first meeting on the conflict in Tigray, diplomatic sources said late Monday.

Tuesday’s virtual meeting will not be open to the public, they said, and it was not yet clear if a statement would be issued afterward.

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