NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Ethiopian military warns civilians in besieged regional capital Tigrei that there will be no “mercy” if they do not “escape” before the latest offensive to oust challenging regional leaders – a threat posed by Human Rights Watch on Sunday stated that it could violate international law.
“From now on, the fighting will be a tank battle,” spokesman Colonel Dejene Cegae said late Saturday, claiming the army was heading to the capital, Tigrei Mekele, and would surround it with tanks. “Our people in Mekele must be informed that they must protect themselves from heavy artillery.”
He accused Tigrei’s leaders of hiding among the city’s population of about half a million and warned civilians to “deviate” from them.
But “treating an entire city as a military target would not only be illegal, but could also be considered a form of collective punishment,” Human Rights Watch researcher Laeticia Bader tweeted on Sunday.
“In other words, war crimes,” the former US national security adviser wrote on Twitter.
Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, gave a new statement to the leaders of the Tigrei People’s Liberation Front to surrender for 72 hours, saying “you are at a point of no return.” He accused TPLF leaders of using religious sites, hotels, schools and even cemeteries as hideouts and using Mekele residents as human shields.
For days, the Abiy government has claimed to have marched to Mekele in final pressure to end the deadly conflict that erupted on November 4 between the federal government and Tigray’s heavily armed 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 ousted TPLF leaders.
Each country is now considered illegal, complicating international requests for dialogue amid concerns that one of Africa’s most powerful and populous nations could break and destabilize the strategic Horn of Africa.
As communications and transport to the Tigray region are almost completely cut off, it is difficult to verify the warring parties’ claims.
And the Ethiopian government has expelled International Crisis Group analyst William Davison. The government has not given an official reason, the organization said, but “in the end there is little doubt that the reason for his deportation is related to the current tense situation in the country and the growing sensitivity of the authorities to views that do not weigh on his line. “
It added: “It is noteworthy that Mr Davison was expelled the same day, and the authorities also issued warning letters to the Ethiopian correspondent of the Reuters news agency and to the BBC and Deutsche Welle stations.”
Meanwhile, a huge humanitarian crisis is unfolding, with the UN saying that some 2 million people in Tigre urgently need help because food, fuel, medical and other supplies are desperately lacking.
Two refugee crises are on the rise. More than 35,000 Ethiopians have fled to a remote area of Sudan, where local communities and humanitarians are struggling to feed and house them. And in the Tigrei region, fighting has approached camps housing nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees. Now some of the Eritreans have fled to Sudan for the second time.