Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave forces in the northern Tigray region a three-day ultimatum to surrender before the military begins an offensive on the rebel-held regional capital of Mekelle.
“We urge you to surrender peacefully within 72 hours, recognising that you are at the point of no return,” Abiy said in a Twitter message on Sunday evening. There was no immediate comment from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules Tigray.
Abiy’s statement came hours after an Ethiopian military spokesman said the army plans to surround Mekelle with tanks and may attack it with artillery to end a nearly three-week war, urging civilians to “save themselves”.
Military spokesman Colonel Dejene Tsegaye told the Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation the next phase of the operation was “to encircle Mekelle using tanks”.
“We want to send a message to the public in Mekelle to save yourselves from any artillery attacks and free yourselves from the junta … After that, there will be no mercy,” he said.
Catherine Sozi, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, said she hoped for the guarantee of safety and security of aid workers and the “protection of more than 525,000 civilians who live in Mekelle”.
She also asked for the “protection of all civilian infrastructure like health facilities, schools and water system … of civilian importance”.
In a statement on Twitter, the government’s emergency task force said: “Our women and men in uniform have shown great care to protect civilians from harm during the law enforcement operation they have carried out in Tigray so far.”