In statement hours after ultimatum for TPLF to surrender expired, PM asks Tigray capital’s residents to ‘stay indoors’.
The United Nations has raised alarm over shortages that have become “very critical” in Ethiopia’s Tigray, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announces a “final phase” of the three-week conflict in the embattled region.
Tigray’s population of six million remains sealed off and its capital is under threat of attack by Ethiopian forces seeking to arrest the regional leaders.
Fuel and cash are running out, more than a million people are displaced and food for nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea will be gone in a week, according to a new report released by the UN overnight on Thursday.
More than 600,000 people who rely on monthly food rations have not received them this month, the global body said.
Travel blockages are so dire that even within Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, the UN World Food Programme cannot gain access in order to transport food from its warehouses there.
Communications and travel links remain severed with the Tigray region since the deadly conflict broke out on November 4.
Human Rights Watch is warning that “actions that deliberately impede relief supplies” violate international humanitarian law.
More than 40,000 refugees from Tigray have crossed the border into Kassala, one of the most impoverished regions of Sudan, which itself is one of the world’s poorest countries.
Analysts and international aid agencies warn that Sudan urgently needs assistance in order to be able to help those desperately fleeing Ethiopia.
“A larger influx would have very dangerous economic repercussions for Sudan,” said Sudanese economist Mohamed el-Nayer.
“We need the international community to urgently intervene economically and help provide food, shelter and medicines to those refugees. If not, Sudan’s economy will be over-burdened.”
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Kenya’s Nairobi, said: “Civilians have been caught up in this conflict so far.”
“The Ethiopian government’s human rights commission has said that more than 600 civilians were killed in an attack that took place two weeks ago in a massacre that it says was carried out by a Tigray militia,” he said.
“Both sides have been accused of killing civilians but both sides have denied targeting civilians.”
Abiy on Thursday ordered Ethiopia’s army to launch a final offensive against Tigray’s leaders in Mekelle, saying the window for their surrender had expired.
Abiy’s government set a 72-hour ultimatum on Sunday for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces to lay down its arms or face an assault on Mekelle, the highland regional capital city of 500,000 people.
“The Ethiopian National Defence Forces have now been directed to conclude the third and final phase of our rule of law operations,” Abiy said in a statement on Twitter.
“In this final phase, great care will be given to protect innocent civilians from harm. All efforts will be made to ensure that the city of Mekelle, which was built through the hard work of our people, will not be severely damaged.”