The Ethiopian military has taken control of three towns from rebel forces in the war-torn northern Tigray region, the government said, amid growing alarm about the resurgent conflict pitting federal forces and their allies against Tigrayan rebels.
“The ENDF [Ethiopian National Defense Force] has taken control of the towns of Shire, Alamata and Korem without fighting in urban areas,” the government said in a statement on Tuesday, after the rebels said earlier that Shire had fallen.
Earlier, the Tigray Central Command said in a statement that Shire had fallen, adding that the rebels were in a “life or death” struggle.
Shire, a university town with an airport, sits at a strategic crossroads that could allow the Ethiopian military to gain wider access to other Tigray areas, such as the towns of Axum and Adwa, or even the regional capital, Mekelle, located 140km (90 miles) away. The city hosts ten of thousands of people who were displaced from other areas by the conflict.
Ethiopia’s army and allies including troops from neighbouring Eritrea have been battling Tigrayan forces on and off since late 2020, a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine.
“If we don’t defend ourselves against our enemies, they will continue the atrocities,” the Tigrayan authorities said.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk earlier on Tuesday warned that air attacks in the turbulent region risked seriously exacerbating the already “devastating impact” of hostilities on civilians, a day after UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that the war was “spiralling out of control”.
Redwan Hussein, national security adviser to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, snapped back at the UN secretary general’s remarks.
“It was spiralling when being expanded to other regions. Now, it’s just being extinguished & degenerating. Aid & services (to Tigray) to follow soon!” Redwan said, suggesting the government believed it was making decisive military gains.