The interim government in the war-affected Tigray region fled its posts as rebels advanced in the local capital, local residents say, marking a dramatic development in the conflict of nearly eight months.
“The capital of Tigray, Mekelle, is under our control,” Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters by satellite.
Federal troops invaded Tigray in November to topple the regional ruling party after attacks on government military bases. The TPLF was ousted within six weeks and the conflict turned into a bitter guerrilla war and sparked a humanitarian crisis. The UN has said 350,000 people are on the brink of famine.
The rebels launched an offensive last week to coincide with the much-awaited national elections in Ethiopia. An interim official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday that the interim local government had chosen to quit its posts in Mekelle as rebel fighters moved closer “from all sides”.
” Everybody is gone. The last left in the afternoon. The region has no government, ”said the official, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
A humanitarian official confirmed the departure of the interim government. “The interim officials left this morning,” said the humanitarian official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several witnesses said soldiers and federal police were also fleeing Mekelle, and the aid official said celebratory gunfire could be heard early Monday evening.
“From the way the community is reacting, it looks like … maybe the troops have withdrawn from here,” the official said.
The office of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Shortly thereafter, the Ethiopian government declared an immediate unilateral ceasefire in the region.
The ceasefire “will allow farmers to cultivate their land, aid groups to operate without any military movement and engage with the remnants (of the former ruling party of Tigray) who seek peace. Ethiopia’s statement said, adding that efforts to bring Tigray’s former rulers to justice have continued.
Ethiopia has said the ceasefire will last until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray. The end of the season arrives in September. The government ordered all federal and regional authorities to respect the ceasefire.