Ethiopia says military operation in Tigray region is over, hunt for Tigray leaders begins

ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI: The Ethiopian government launched a manhunt on Sunday for leaders of a rebellious faction in the northern region of Tigray after announcing federal troops had taken over the regional capital and military operations were complete.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed government has been trying to quell a rebellion by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a powerful ethnically-based party that dominated the central government from 1991 until Abiy came to power in 2018.

He said on Saturday evening federal troops had taken control of the Tigrayan capital Mekelle within hours of launching an offensive there, laying to rest fears of protracted fighting in the city of 500,000 people.

The prime minister, who refers to the three-week-old conflict as an internal law and order matter and has rebuffed international offers of mediation, said federal police will try to arrest TPLF “criminals” and bring them to court.

However, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters in a text message on Saturday evening that TPLF forces would fight on, raising the prospect that the conflict could drag on.

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and nearly 44,000 have fled to Sudan since the fighting began on Nov. 4. The conflict has been another test for Abiy, who took office two years ago and is trying to hold together a patchwork of ethnic groups that make up Ethiopia’s 115 million people.

The flow of refugees and attacks by the TPLF on neighbouring Eritrea have also threatened to destabilize the wider Horn of Africa region.

Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down and access tightly controlled since the fighting began.

The police late on Saturday issued arrest warrants for 17 more military officers charged with crimes in connection with the conflict that include treason and embezzlement of public properties, state-affiliated Fana TV reported. They add to the 117 warrants issued for senior military officers it says are connected to TPLF since the conflict broke out.

It was not clear if any TPLF leaders had surrendered, their whereabouts or their next plans.

“Their brutality can only add (to) our resolve to fight these invaders to the last,” the TPLF’s Debretsion told Reuters in a text message on Saturday.

Asked by Reuters if that meant his forces would continue fighting, he replied: “Certainly. This is about defending our right to self determination.”

Debretsion said in another text message that Tigrayan forces were withdrawing from around Mekelle. - Reuters ���������