Ethiopian army captures city from Tigray forces -sources
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian government forces and their allies on Monday captured Shire, one of the biggest cities in the northern region of Tigray, from regional forces they have been battling on and off since late 2020, two diplomatic and humanitarian sources said.
The violence in Tigray, which has spilled over into neighbouring regions and drawn in the Eritrean military, has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and left hundreds of thousands now facing possible famine.
The conflict stems from grievances rooted in periods of Ethiopia’s turbulent past when particular regional power blocs held sway over the country as a whole, and in tensions over the balance of power between the regions and the central state.
Shire is about 140 km (90 miles) northwest of Tigray’s regional capital Mekelle and hosts tens of thousands of people displaced from other areas by the conflict.
Just as news of Shire’s capture was breaking, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was calling for an immediate end to hostilities in Tigray and a return to peace talks sponsored by the African Union.
Guterres told reporters the United Nations was ready to support the bloc in every possible way to end the Ethiopian people’s “nightmare”.
The European Union said the joint offensive by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces should stop immediately and the Eritreans should withdraw from Ethiopian territory. It also urged Tigray forces to refrain from any further military operations.
Spokespersons for the Ethiopian government and army, for the Eritrean government and for the Tigray forces did not respond to requests for comment on events in Shire.
In a post on Twitter, the Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry referred to “areas liberated and controlled” by the national army, saying the government was ready to ensure humanitarian access and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers. It did not specify which areas it was referring to.
An aid worker from the International Rescue Committee was among three people killed during an air strike on Shire on Friday.
On Sunday, Samantha Power, head of U.S. development agency USAID, said there was a significant risk of attacks on civilians if the Ethiopian and Eritrean armies took control of camps sheltering displaced civilians.
In September, a U.N. human rights commission said it had reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes had been committed by forces from both sides of the conflict, which have all denied perpetrating abuses.
Earlier on Monday, the Ethiopian government said it aimed to seize airports and other infrastructure currently under the control of the Tigray forces, even as it stated it was committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict through peace talks.
The Tigray authorities said on Sunday their forces would abide by an immediate truce and said a “humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding.
Both sides blame each other for breaking a ceasefire in August that had lasted since March.
Peace talks proposed for earlier this month in South Africa were delayed with no new date announced.
Western and African diplomats said they were concerned that the fighting in Tigray would further delay the start of any substantive talks. They also said the involvement of Eritrean troops was a major issue and it was unclear if the Ethiopian government had any control over its ally’s forces.
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Estelle Shirbon,; Editing by James Macharia Chege and Angus MacSwan)