ETHIOPIA’S government has said its soldiers had recaptured a city in southern Tigray from Tigrayan fighters, marking its first major advance inside the war-torn region in many months and following a rebel retreat announced a day earlier.
The government communication service on Wednesday said the ‘gallant Ethiopian Defence Forces and the Amhara region security forces after sweeping the enemy force… have captured Alamata city,’ indicating that fighting would continue.
‘The Ethiopian National Defence Forces and the Amhara region security forces which are… destroying the fleeing terrorist clique are marching on Abergele,’ the government said, referring to a district in Tigray.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebel group, which announced its withdrawal from the Amhara and Afar regions this week and called for a ceasefire, did not immediately react to the government’s claims.
The TPLF pullout from these regions had raised hopes there would be talks to end the brutal 13-month conflict that has killed thousands and created a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine.
Both sides have been claiming major territorial gains in recent months, with the rebels at one point saying there were only 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.
But since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner – headed to the front last month, according to state media, the government has claimed to have retaken a string of key towns.
The government dismissed Monday’s withdrawal announcement by the TPLF as a cover-up for military setbacks.
Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted, making it difficult to verify battlefield claims.