By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Ethiopia: The United Nations has expressed concern about possible war crimes after a threat by the Ethiopian army to start an assault on the northern Tigray region’s capital as a deadline set by the government for fighters in the region to surrender is due to expire on Wednesday 25 November 2020.
Fighting between the government and regional forces in Tigray has been going on for almost three weeks with Hundreds of people reportedly killed and tens of thousands have fled to the neighbouring countries.
The UN revealed that it was alarmed by the threat of major hostilities if the Ethiopian army advanced on Tigray’s capital Mekelle, home to about 500,000 people.
However, a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the fighting in Tigray ended without a statement, according to AFP news agency, with African countries reportedly requesting more time to allow for diplomatic efforts by the African Union to continue.
On Sunday, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a 72-hour ultimatum to Tigray’s forces, telling them to surrender as they were “at a point of no return”.
But Tigray’s forces have vowed to keep fighting, with their leader Debretsion Gebremichael saying they are “ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region”.
The commission further said that the group stabbed, bludgeoned and burned to death non-Tigrayan residents of the town of Mai-Kadra with the collusion of local forces.
The conflict started after Ethiopia’s central government accused the TPLF of holding an illegal election and attacking a military base to steal weapons.
In response, Mr Abiy a former Nobel Peace Prize winner ordered a military offensive against forces in Tigray, accusing them of treason.
The TPLF sees the central government as illegitimate, arguing Mr Abiy does not have the mandate to lead the country after postponing national elections because of coronavirus outbreak.
However, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed her fears and raised an alarm for fighters to cease fire and spare civilians
“alarm at reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around Mekelle, clear and unambiguous orders to their forces to spare civilians”, She appealed
“The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger, I fear such rhetoric will lead to further violations of international humanitarian law.” Ms Bachelet said.
The rhetoric has been ramped up in recent days. On Sunday, the Ethiopian army said there would be “no mercy” for Mekelle’s residents when its soldiers “encircle” the city and Such talk could constitute a war crime, she noted.
Mr Abiy has repeatedly said the Ethiopian army would protect civilians in its campaign against forces in Tigray but Ms Bachelet revealed that a virtual communications blackout in Tigray was making it difficult for the UN to monitor the human rights and humanitarian situation.
“Reports continue to emerge of arbitrary arrests and detentions, killings, as well as discrimination and stigmatisation of ethnic Tigray’s,” the UN said.
At least 40,000 refugees have already crossed into neighbouring Sudan. The UN refugee agency has said it is preparing for up to 200,000 people to arrive over the next six months if the fighting continues.