Tigray capital Mekelle was seized by rebels earlier this week
The Ethiopian army says it could re-enter the seized Tigray regional capital of Mekelle within weeks if needed, a spokesman for a government task force said on Wednesday, adding that government-allied Eritrean forces had withdrawn from the region.
Rebel fighters have been battling Ethiopian government forces in the region since November last year and thousands of people have died in the intervening months.
De rebels captured the region’s capital, Mekelle, earlier this week and continue to gain ground. The UN said they have now entered the town of Shire.
“If it is required, we can easily enter to Mekelle and we can enter in less than three weeks,” Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s task force for Tigray, told reporters.
It was the first public statement by any official in Etiopia‘s federal government since rebels took control of Mekelle,
The Ethiopian government had on Monday declared a ceasefire. Mr Hussein described the ceasefire as a political decision “made for humanitarian cause”.
But the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) called the ceasefire a “joke” and vowed to “destroy the enemy”.
“We have to ensure that the enemy… doesn’t have the capability to threaten the security of our people anymore,” rebel spokesman Getachew Reda said.
The Ethiopian army could re-enter Mekelle within weeks if needed, government officials said.
The TPLF, an ethnically based political party that dominated Ethiopia’s national politics for nearly three decades, has been battling the central government since early November.
It has made major territorial gains in the past week.
Earlier this year it emerged that Some 800 people were said to have been killed during a massacre at a Christian church in Axum at the outset of the conflict.
Locals worshippers believe the Ark of the Covenant is housed at the St Mary of Zion church, which became a place of refuge for those fleeing the fighting.