The Tigrayan rebels claimed, Sunday, October 31, to have taken Kombolcha, a strategic city in the north of theEthiopia, claims denied by the government, according to which “Fierce fighting” were still ongoing against Federal forces.
This victory, if confirmed, would constitute another important step for the rebels who have been at war with the government for a year. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), which dominated national politics for three decades until 2018, had already succeeded in retaking most of the Tigrayan region from federal forces in June, before continuing its expansion into the United States. neighboring regions.
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu, however, said late Sunday that“There are currently violent fights on the Dessié and Kombolcha fronts”.
Most of northern Ethiopia is off limits to journalists, making it virtually impossible to independently verify information from the two actors in the conflict.
According to Getachew, the rebel spokesman, the TPLF did not “Other motivation than to break the bloody siege” of Tigray, in the grip of a serious humanitarian crisis. But the fighting in Kombolcha, south of Dessie – two towns in the Amhara region – fueled speculation that the TPLF was closing in on the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Frightened Kombolcha residents told AFP they had spent the day holed up in their homes as an exchange of fire pitted TPLF fighters against Ethiopian soldiers and local militias.
Firmly in control of #Kombolcha. Our forces will continue to take all appropriate measures to break the siege on th… https://t.co/q4D41A6z5C
Semira, 36, said she spotted rebels marching in the street after praying at a local mosque. “I saw soldiers (…) leaving the city with a few trucks”, she added. A trader, Hamdiu, also claimed to have seen Ethiopian troops leaving in trucks. “The city is terrifyingly calm now (…) all the people are at home”, he told AFP, adding that he could see TPLF fighters in the streets through the window.
In a message posted on Facebook, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged Ethiopians to use “Any weapon (…) to block the destructive TPLF, knock it over and bury it”. “Dying for Ethiopia is a duty for all of us”, he said, echoing the appeal made to residents by the government of the Amhara region to mobilize and defend their lands.
The Amhara administration issued a decree on Sunday ordering all institutions to suspend their regular services and devote their budgets and energy to “The survival campaign”. The city of Dessié was also the scene of new fighting and artillery fire on Sunday.
“De facto” blockade “
Ethiopian troops, who several witnesses said had retreated the night before, returned to town and ordered residents to stay home. “The soldiers told us there was fighting again and told us not to go out”, Mohammed, a resident, told AFP. Desta, another resident of Dessie, added that she saw soldiers fighting in the streets. “They shoot, but I had to close my window so as not to be spotted and targeted”, he assured. Another resident of the town, Yemesirach, said she heard detonations and was “At home, terrified”.
An Ethiopian military statement said on Sunday that “The armed forces at the front will continue to clean up the group of terrorists”. Residents had previously reported significant military build-up in Dessie, which is about 400 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, as civilians fled conflict-affected towns.
The Ethiopian air force also carried out a strike on Makale, the regional capital of Tigray, on Sunday, the latest in a series of almost daily bombardments over the past two weeks. The strike that fell near Makalé targeted a “Military training center which was used to recruit and train” TPLF fighters, the Ethiopian government said on Twitter.
No casualties have yet been identified, but hospital sources in Makalé reported a dozen dead in a previous strike on Thursday, and the United Nations reported three casualties on October 18.
The government claims to target only military installations, while, according to the TPLF, several bombings have targeted civilian areas.
The hostilities have caused large numbers of population displacements and, according to the UN, placed some 400,000 people on the verge of famine. The major humanitarian organizations regularly denounce the obstacles to the delivery of aid to Tigray, subject to what the UN describes as “Blockade de facto “.
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