Ethiopia: Govt says forces have retaken two more cities in the North from TPLF rebels

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The Ethiopian government said Monday it had retaken the strategic northern towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, more than a month after Tigrayan rebels claimed to have seized them.

"The historic town of Dessie and Kombolcha, a trading and industrial city, have been liberated by the valiant security forces," the government's communications department said on Twitter.

Just a month ago, rebels from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) threatened Addis Ababa after taking control of Dessie and Kombolcha, which are located on a highway linking the capital to the north of the country and to Djibouti.

They claimed to have reached Shewa Robit, 220 km northeast of Addis Ababa.

But since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave assurances that he would now lead operations on the ground in late November, his government has claimed a series of victories against the rebels.

Quoted by the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, Abiy said the rebels had suffered "heavy losses and (were) unable to withstand the onslaught" of the army allied with several pro-government militias.

"We will defeat the enemy and the victory will continue," he added.

On Wednesday, the government announced that pro-Abiy forces had recaptured the Lalibela site, famous for its rock-hewn churches and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which had fallen to Tigrayan fighters in August.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter Monday night that the rebels had withdrawn from several towns including Kombolcha and Dessie, and that "this is part of our plan."

On Sunday, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael denied that the government was regaining the upper hand, assuring that the rebels were strategically reorganizing and remained undefeated.

"The enemy is getting stronger, so we must also be strong and intensify our fight," he said.

The conflict had erupted in November 2020 when Abiy Ahmed sent troops to the northernmost region of Tigray to overthrow the TPLF in response, he said, to rebel attacks on army camps.

The insurgents launched a major counter-offensive, retaking most of Tigray in June, before pushing into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar. The conflict took a new turn a month ago when the TPLF claimed to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha, while not ruling out a march on the capital, Addis Ababa.

This escalation caused panic in Western chancelleries, with several countries such as the United States, Canada and France asking their nationals to leave the country as soon as possible.

- Large-scale arrests -

According to the UN, the fighting has left thousands dead, more than two million people displaced and hundreds of thousands in near starvation conditions.

Massacres and gang rapes by both sides have been documented.

So far, diplomatic efforts by the African Union to try to reach a cease-fire have failed to produce any decisive progress.

Earlier Monday, the United States and its Western allies sounded the alarm over reports that the Ethiopian government has arbitrarily arrested large numbers of people on an ethnic basis.

"We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Ethiopian government has detained large numbers of Ethiopian citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and without charge," the U.S. State Department said in a joint statement.

Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom joined the U.S. in calling on the Ethiopian government to "immediately cease" the arrests, saying "many of these actions are likely violations of international law.

Their joint statement cited reports from Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission of large-scale arrests of Tigrayans, including "orthodox priests, the elderly and mothers with their children."

"People have been arrested without charge or court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions," they added, before reiterating their call for a "durable ceasefire without preconditions.

The United States and several allied countries said Monday they were concerned about reports of arrests on the basis of ethnicity in Ethiopia, and reiterated their calls for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Earlier Monday, the U.S. and its Western allies sounded the alarm over reports that the Ethiopian government has arbitrarily arrested large numbers of people on an ethnic basis.

"We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Ethiopian government has detained large numbers of Ethiopian citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and without charge," the U.S. State Department said in a joint statement.

Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom joined the U.S. in calling on the Ethiopian government to "immediately cease" the arrests, saying "many of these actions are likely violations of international law.

Their joint statement cited reports from Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission of large-scale arrests of Tigrayans, including "orthodox priests, the elderly and mothers with their children."

"People have been arrested without charge or court hearing and are reportedly being held in inhumane conditions," they added, before reiterating their call for a "durable ceasefire without preconditions.

The United States and several allied countries said Monday they were concerned about reports of arrests on the basis of ethnicity in Ethiopia, and reiterated their calls for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

"We, Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Ethiopian state has detained a large number of Ethiopian citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and without charge," the countries said.

Their joint statement cited reports by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission of large-scale arrests of Tigrayans, including "orthodox priests, the elderly and mothers with their children.

"Many of these acts are likely to constitute violations of international law and must stop immediately," the signatory countries said, reiterating their "grave concern about human rights abuses and violations, such as those involving conflict-related sexual violence.

The United States and its allies call on "all parties to seize the opportunity to negotiate a durable ceasefire without preconditions.

"It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict," they stressed.

According to the UN, the war in Ethiopia has already left several thousand people dead, more than two million displaced and hundreds of thousands more in near starvation conditions since the conflict broke out in November 2020.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northernmost region of Tigray to overthrow the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in what he said was a response to rebel attacks on army camps.

The insurgents made a comeback by retaking most of Tigray in June, before moving into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar. The conflict took a new turn a month ago when the TPLF claimed to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha.

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