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  • Tigray capital under full control of TPLF, spokesperson says
  • Government forces pursued
  • No new comment from the government that declared the truce

GONDAR, Ethiopia, June 29 (Reuters) – Tigrayan forces announced on Tuesday that Ethiopian government troops were on the run around the regional capital Mekelle after taking full control of the city in a brutal reversal of eight months of conflict.

Residents of Mekelle, where communications were cut on Monday, said incoming Tigrayan fighters were greeted with cheers. There were similar scenes in video footage from the northern town of Shire where residents said Eritrean forces allied with the government had withdrawn and Tigrayian forces had entered.

“We are in 100% control of Mekelle,” Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), told Reuters on Tuesday.

There had been fighting on the outskirts of town, but it was now over, he said, adding that he couldn’t confirm Shire’s report.

“Our forces are always in pursuit south, east, to continue until every square inch of territory is cleared of the enemy.”

The ousted TPLF was re-establishing itself in Mekelle and people could roam the streets again, he said, refusing to question whether Tigray would now seek independence after a bitter conflict that often targeted civilians.

Reuters could not verify his comments as telephone links with Mekelle and the rest of Tigray were down. The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire on Monday, but has not publicly responded to TPLF claims it has recaptured Mekelle.

Fighting in Ethiopia’s northern region has killed thousands, displaced two million and brought hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine.

The United States said the atrocities should end immediately and warned Ethiopia and Eritrea that Washington will be watching them closely. Read more

“We will not stand idly by in the face of the horrors of Tigray,” said Robert Godec, acting deputy secretary of state in the Office of African Affairs at the State Department.

STOP ONE SIDE FIRE?

House of Commons Foreign Affairs Chairman Greg Meeks said that if the Tigray disaster does not abate, “we may witness one of our closest and most powerful allies in Africa marching towards civil war and eventually state collapse ”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he hoped a political solution would be possible. Diplomats have said the UN Security Council will discuss Tigray this week.

A woman carries a baby as she queues for food at Tsehaye Primary School, which has been turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by the conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 15, 2021. REUTERS / Baz Ratner

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It was not clear whether the other parties to the conflict would agree to the ceasefire. The Ethiopian military spokesperson, the Eritrean Minister of Information and the Amhara regional spokesperson all said they were unable to comment. Getachew said the ceasefire was a “joke” and that hundreds of people were killed in fighting near the border with the Afar region on Tuesday. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the fighting.

Over the next few days, TPLF forces will target troops allied with the government of the neighboring Amhara region – to the south and west – and the neighboring nation of Eritrea to the north and north. western Tigray, Getachew said, adding that they would cross borders in pursuit if necessary.

On Monday evening, while telephone links to Mekelle were still open, residents said soldiers had disappeared from the streets and TPLF forces had entered the town. Residents greeted them with flags and songs, witnesses said. Read more

Getachew urged the international community to force the government to allow food and aid to the region, accusing Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of blocking it.

A spokeswoman for Abiy and the head of a government task force on Tigray did not return messages seeking comment on the food locks or other Getachew comments on Tuesday. The government has previously denied the food aid freeze and said it provides the majority of the food. The UN has previously said soldiers were blocking food in areas controlled by the TPLF.

On Tuesday, residents said Eritrean forces could no longer be seen in Shire, a large town at the junction of several main roads.

“There isn’t a single Eritrean in town,” a resident of Shire told Reuters. He sent a short video of residents crammed into vehicles, beeping wildly and waving a large golden and red Tigray flag.

Another resident of Shire told Reuters “overnight there was a massive movement of Eritrean troops from Axum, Shire to Sheraro.” Sheraro is close to the Eritrean border.

FAMINE AND ABUSE OF RIGHTS

Ethiopia is awaiting the results of the national and regional parliamentary elections held on June 21. Voting only took place in three of the country’s ten regions due to insecurity and logistical concerns. Read more

No votes were held in Tigray where the TPLF, an ethnically-based political party that has dominated Ethiopian national politics for nearly three decades, has been fighting the central government since early November. He made major territorial gains over the past week.

The fighting was punctuated by reports of brutal gang rapes and massacres of civilians. At least 12 aid workers have been killed. Read more

At least 350,000 people are facing famine and 5 million more are in need of immediate food assistance, the United Nations has said – the world’s worst food crisis in a decade.

Last week, an Ethiopian military airstrike on a crowded market killed at least 64 people and injured 180 others. Doctors said women and children were among the dead and injured and Ethiopian troops prevented ambulances from reaching the scene for more than a day. The military said all the victims were fighters. Read more

Maggie Fick was reporting from Nairobi; additional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa; written by Katharine Houreld; edited by Catherine Evans, Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean

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