Tigray forces battling Ethiopia’s federal government in the northern region said they “completely destroyed” the army’s 21st mechanised division.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Tigray’s military, made the claim during a television broadcast on Tuesday.
Reda promised to “arm each and every civilian to defend the city of Mekelle”, the capital city of Tigray with a population of about 500,000 people.
A government spokesman did not return calls seeking a response to Reda’s comments.
It is impossible to verify statements made by either side since phone and internet connections to the Tigray region are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.
‘Fight to the death’
Since the conflict erupted on November 4, hundreds of people have been killed and about 40,000 have fled into neighbouring Sudan.
The leader of Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region has said his people are “ready to die” defending their homeland, rejecting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s ultimatum that they surrender within 72 hours.
Abiy launched a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, accusing it of attacking two federal military camps in the northern region, as well as defying and seeking to destabilise his government.
The federal army says its forces are within 60 kilometres (37 miles) of Mekelle, the seat of the TPLF, ahead of a threatened all-out bombardment of the city.Abiy – last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner – on Sunday called on the TPLF to surrender peacefully within three days, saying they were “at a point of no return”.
But the TPLF’s leader Debretsion Gebremichael said Abiy was trying to cover for setbacks his army had suffered against Tigrayan forces, and was issuing threats to buy time.