Defiant Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed has ordered the “final phase” of an offensive in the rebellious northern Tigray region today (Thursday) and by midnight West African time, he expects Tigray to be in rubbles.
The statement came hours after an ultimatum for Tigray forces to surrender expired.
African envoys who had gone to Ethiopia to plead for peace on Wednesday, were shunned by the Abiy government.
The government gave the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) 72 hours on Sunday to lay down their arms or face an assault on Mekelle, the regional capital city of 500,000 people.
“The 72-hour period granted to the criminal TPLF clique to surrender peacefully is now over and our law enforcement campaign has reached its final stage,” Abiy tweeted.
He said civilians would be spared and that thousands of fighters had already surrendered.
“The last peaceful gate which remained open for the TPLF clique to walk through has now been firmly closed,” Abiy said.
Abiy called on the people of Mekelle to “disarm, stay at home and stay away from military targets”.
“Our National Defence Forces have carefully devised a strategy to bring the TPLF criminal clique to justice without harming innocent civilians, heritage sites, places of worship, development institutions and property,” he added.
Rights groups fear any assault could bring huge civilian casualties.
Thousands of people are already believed to have died and there has been widespread destruction from aerial bombardment and ground fighting since the war began on Nov. 4.
Around 42,000 refugees have fled over the border to Sudan. TPLF rockets have hit neighboring Eritrea.
Despite several warnings from International organizations and human rights groups including the United Nations that Abiy might be tried for war crimes, he was adamant and neglected every effort at peace except Tigray surrenders.