NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Ethiopian military warns civilians in the besieged regional capital Tigray that there will be “no mercy” if they do not “save themselves” before a final offensive to flush out defiant regional leaders – a threat, as Human Rights Watch on Sunday said it could violate international law.
“From now on, the fighting will be a tank battle,” said spokesman Colonel Dejene Tsegaye late on Saturday, claiming that the army was marching on the capital Tigray, Mekele, and would surround it with tanks. “Our people in Mekele must be warned to protect themselves from heavy artillery.”
He accused Tigray leaders of hiding about half a million people among the city’s population and warned civilians to “steer away” from them.
But “treating an entire city as a military target would not only be illegal, it could also be considered a form of collective punishment,” Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader tweeted on Sunday.
“In other words, war crimes,” tweeted former US National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
In a new statement, Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, gives the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front 72 hours to surrender, saying “you are at a point of no return.” He accused TPLF leaders of using religious sites, hotels, schools “and even cemeteries” as concealment and using Mekele residents as human shields.
For several days, Abiy’s government has claimed that it marched to Mekele in a final push to end the deadly conflict that erupted on November 4 between the federal government and the heavily armed Tigray regional government. The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for a quarter of a century, before Abiy took office and introduced dramatic political reforms and excluded TPLF leaders.
Now each side views each other as illegal, complicated international grounds for dialogue, fearing that one of Africa’s most powerful and populous nations may crack and destabilize the strategic Horn of Africa.
Since communication and transportation to the Tigray region are almost completely separate, it is difficult to control the demands of the warring parties.
And the Ethiopian government has expelled an analyst with the international crisis group, William Davison. The government has not given a formal reason, the organization said, but “in the end, there is little doubt that the reason for his deportation relates to the current tense situation in the country and the authorities’ growing sensitivity to views that do not line up. ”
It added: “It is remarkable that on the same day Mr. Davison was expelled, authorities also issued warning letters to the news agency Reuters’ Ethiopian correspondent and to the stations BBC and Deutsche Welle. “
Meanwhile, a huge humanitarian crisis unfolds, with the United Nations saying that around 2 million people in Tigray are in urgent need of help as food, fuel, medicine and other supplies run desperately.
Two refugee crises are growing. Over 35,000 Ethiopians have fled to a remote area of Sudan, where local communities and humanitarian forces have struggled to feed and accommodate them. And within the Tigray region, fighting has come close to camps home to nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees. Some of the Eritreans have now fled a second time into Sudan.