ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The Ethiopian military plans to use tanks to encircle Mekelle, the capital of northern Tigray region, and is warning civilians it may also use artillery on the city, state media reported on Sunday.
“The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks, finishing the battle on mountainous areas and advancing to the fields,” Colonel Dejene Tsegaye, a military spokesman, told the state-run Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation.
The conflict erupted on Nov. 4 after what the government described as a surprise attack on federal troops by forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that controls Tigray.
Information on the fighting is extremely patchy and claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication to the region has been down since the conflict began.
Both sides say federal forces have taken Adigrat, 116 kilometres (72 miles) north of Mekelle.
Dejene said civilians in Mekelle, which has a population of half a million, should be aware of the danger.
“So far, we were only attacking targets which the junta fighters were stationed but in the case of Mekelle it might be different,” he said, referring to the TPLF.
“We want to send a message to the public in Mekelle to save themselves from any artillery attacks and free themselves from the junta. The junta is now shielding itself within the public and the public must isolate itself from the junta.”
“After that, there will no mercy.”
TPLF forces were not immediately available for comment.
Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Frances Kerry