Ethiopia PM issues 72-hour ultimatum to dissident region's leaders

Members of the Amhara Special Force return to Dansha Mechanized 5th division Military base after fighting against Tigray People's Liberation Front in Danasha Amhara region near Tigray November 9. REUTERS

ETHIOPIA'S military today threatened an all-out assault on Mekele, capital of the dissident Tigray region and seat of the local government it is seeking to dislodge, warning civilians to flee while they still can.

Idaga Hamus is located less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away from Mekele, the Ethiopian military operation's final goal, as confirmed by authorities.

The premier said he will soon meet an African delegation led by South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa.

United Nations agencies are appealing for funding to aid more than 33,000 people fleeing violence in Ethiopia's Tigray region, fearing more than 200,000 could follow in six months, a spokesman for the world body said.

Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize a year ago for a peace pact with Eritrea, has said he wants to remove the TPLF leaders before talking.

The TPLF is popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Abiy took office.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels said nine civilians had died in artillery hits on Adigrat where it accused Eritrea of backing the Ethiopian army. Tensions have been building in the region since September 9 when Tigray defiantly held a regional election after Abiy postponed the polls, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

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Ina statement, Ramaphosa said that former President Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe expressed their deep desire to resolve the conflict through dialogue.

"The overall safety and well-being of the people of Tigray is of paramount importance to the Federal government and we will do all that is necessary to ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want", he said.

Abiy's government has said it will soon reach Mekelle after taking various surrounding towns.

"Neither party, from everything we hear, is interested in mediation", said Tibor Nagy, the top USA diplomat for Africa.

On Friday, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said people are streaming into neighbouring Sudan every day from Ethiopia's conflict-impacted northernmost region, reports Xinhua news agency. And inside the Tigray region, the fighting has come close to camps that are home to almost 100,000 refugees from Eritrea.

Two refugee crises are growing.

The UN has called for the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow aid agencies access, and has said it is preparing for as many as 200,000 refugees to flee unrest in the coming months.

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