Ethiopia's prime minister said Thursday the army has been ordered to move on the embattled Tigray regional capital of Mekele after his 72-hour ultimatum ended for Tigray leaders to surrender, and he warned its half-million residents to stay indoors and disarm. The military offensive “has reached its final stage” after three weeks of fighting, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office said. That means tanks and other weaponry can close in on Mekele, whose residents had been warned of “no mercy” if they didn't move away from Tigray leaders in time. That caused international alarm as rights groups said such wording could violate international law and put civilians in further danger. Abiy's statement asserted that thousands of Tigray militia and special forces surrendered during the 72-hour period that ended Wednesday evening. “We will take utmost care to protect civilians,” the statement said.
The UN has reported people fleeing the city, but communications and transport links remain severed to Tigray, and it’s not clear how many people in Mekele received the warnings in time, reports the AP. The international community is pleading for immediate de-escalation, dialogue, and humanitarian access as Ethiopian forces have fought their way through Tigray to Mekele. But Abiy, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected international “interference." It remains difficult to verify claims in the fighting that erupted Nov. 4 between Ethiopian forces and the heavily armed forces of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which once dominated Ethiopia's government but has been sidelined under Abiy's rule. The two governments now regard each other as illegal.
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