The interim government of Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region have fled their posts as rebels advanced on the local capital, an official said, signalling a turning point in the nearly eight-month-old conflict.
Federal troops invaded Tigray to depose the regional ruling party after attacks on government military bases. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was ousted within six weeks and the conflict has become a grinding guerrilla war and triggered a humanitarian crisis. The UN has said 350,000 people are on the brink of famine.
The rebels launched an offensive last week coinciding with Ethiopia’s highly anticipated national elections. An interim official told AFP on Monday that the interim local government opted to leave their posts in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, as rebel fighters closed in “on every side”.
“Everybody has left. The last ones left in the afternoon. The region doesn’t have a government,” said the official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
A humanitarian official confirmed the interim government’s departure. “The interim officials left this morning,” said the humanitarian official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several witnesses said federal soldiers and police were also fleeing Mekelle on Monday, and the humanitarian official said celebratory gunfire could be heard early on Monday evening.
“It looks like from the way the community is reacting that … perhaps the troops have retreated from here,” the official said.
The office of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said Abraham Belay, the head of the interim government, had called for a ceasefire.
“Tigray interim administration asks the federal government to agree to a ceasefire based on the humanity of the federal government and in a manner that doesn’t result in more damage,” the report quoted Abraham as saying.