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Tigray Leader: Ethiopian Forces Conducting Offensive to Capture Mekelle

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed meets with African Union (AU) envoys in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov. 27, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media.

The Tigray regional government said Saturday that Ethiopian government forces are already conducting a military offensive to capture the regional capital, Mekelle.

Reuters is reporting that in a text message to the news agency, Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), said Mekelle was under "heavy bombardment."

French news agency AFP said aid workers confirmed heavy shelling hit the capital of Tigray.

Reuters also is quoting Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the Ethiopian Prime Minister's office as saying that that Ethiopian forces would not "bombard" civilian areas, adding, "the safety of Ethiopians in Mekelle and Tigray region continues as priority for the federal government."

Friday Ethiopia’s news agency said Ethiopian forces were advancing in several towns near Tigray’s regional capital.

Lieutenant-General Hassan Ibrahim said in a statement Friday that federal forces have captured Wikro "and will control Mekelle in a few days."

There was no independent confirmation of the government claims. Phone and internet connections to the region have been down since the government’s military offensive began in early November.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, following a meeting with African Union envoys, again ruled out negotiating with leaders of the Tigray region.

Abiy met Friday in Addis Ababa with three AU envoys — former Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa.

A statement issued after the meeting said Abiy appreciated the commitment of the AU envoys “to the principle of African solutions to African problems.” He said his government was committed to the "protection and security of civilians" but made no mentions of holding talks with the TPLF.

Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ending a two-decade standoff with Eritrea, announced a military offensive against the regional government in Tigray on November 4 saying it was in response to an attack by Tigray forces on a government military base. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed since then.

More than 43,000 refugees have fled to Sudan.

The International Rescue Committee said Friday it is extremely concerned about an impending humanitarian disaster, noting that a half-million people live in the Tigrayan regional capital of Mekelle.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed Friday the need to ensure the protection of civilians, human rights and aid access, according to U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq.

A Vatican statement Friday said Pope Francis has renewed a call for an end to the conflict and for political dialog to resolve it. The pope appealed to both sides for the protection of civilians.