Ethiopia declares victory as military takes Tigray capital

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Tigray men who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region, run to recieve cooked rice from charity organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed again ruled out dialogue with the leaders of the defiant Tigray region Friday but said he was willing to speak to representatives "operating legally" there during a meeting with three African Union special envoys trying to end the deadly conflict between federal troops and the region's forces. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

NAIROBI – Ethiopia's military has gained “full control” of the capital of the defiant Tigray region, the army announced Saturday, and the prime minister said the taking of Mekele marked the “completion” of an offensive that started nearly four weeks ago. The regional government said the city of a half-million people was “heavily bombarded" in the final push to arrest its leaders.

“God bless Ethiopia and its people!" Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement. “We have entered Mekele without innocent civilians being targets."

Now, he said, police will pursue the leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, who run the region and dominated Ethiopia's ruling coalition before Abiy came to power in 2018 and sidelined them among the sweeping reforms that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Abiy’s government has accused the TPLF of inciting unrest and seeking to reclaim power, and each government now regards the other as illegal. The prime minister has rejected dialogue with TPLF leaders, including during a Friday meeting with three African Union special envoys.

As Abiy spoke of “returning normalcy” to the Tigray region, one of his ministers told The Associated Press in a phone interview “there is no way” the search for the TPLF leaders will take weeks.

The minister in charge of democratization, Zadig Abraha, also said the Ethiopian government doesn't yet know the number of people killed in the conflict.

“We have kept the civilian casualty very low,” he asserted. Humanitarians and human rights groups have reported several hundred dead, including combatants.

Some Ethiopians at home and in the diaspora rejoiced at the news that Mekele was under the military's control. “Thanks to the Almighty God our creator. Amen. Let peace prevail in Ethiopia!!!” former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn tweeted.