*:Not([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]> *: not ([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-left: 0.5rem;}]]>Image descriptionMekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, is a city with about 500,000 inhabitants *: not ([hidden]): not (style) ~ *: not ([hidden]): not (style) {margin-top: 1rem;}]]>

The chief of local forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region says they are still fighting near the regional capital, Mekelle, which was seized by government forces over the weekend.

Debretsion Gebremichael, who heads the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), also says his fighters have recaptured another key city.

The government denies the allegations and insists that the TPLF has been put down.

Hundreds of people were reportedly killed in the month-long conflict.

Thousands have been displaced while the United Nations and aid agencies have raised concerns about the humanitarian situation.

Media signatureAnne Soy from the BBC reports from a refugee camp on the Sudanese-Ethiopian border

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told parliament on Monday that not a single civilian had been killed since the government’s offensive began in early November.

With all phone lines and the Internet cut, it is impossible to independently verify statements from either party.

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In another development, the TPLF said it had released more than 4,000 federal soldiers who had been held captive since Tigrayan troops attacked a Bundeswehr base in early November.

This attack led to the start of the Bundeswehr operation in the region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Mr. Abiy to call for an end to “the struggle and constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis”.

What does the TPLF say?

In a text message to the Reuters news agency on Sunday, the TPLF leader said his armed forces had shot down a federal fighter plane and captured the pilot.

In another message on Monday, Mr Debretsion said the TPLF was “near Mekelle and fighting”.

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionThe whereabouts of Debretsion Gebremichael and other TPLF leaders are unknown

He also said the TPLF had recaptured the city of Aksum from the Bundeswehr.

On Monday, Fisseha Asgedom, a former Ethiopian UN ambassador with ties to the TPLF, told the BBC that reports by the Addis Ababa government of a sweeping advance were “a joke”.

“The Addis Ababa government announced that they had captured Mekelle, and six hours after they announced it, they bombed Mekelle … It’s propaganda. Why can’t you send videos to the international community?”

What does the Ethiopian government say?

Mr Abiy announced that Mekelle had fallen victim to the German armed forces on Saturday and described the move as the “last phase” in his government’s offensive.

Image rightsEPAImage descriptionAbiy Ahmed briefed the Addis Ababa parliament on Monday about the conflict

In a BBC interview on Monday, Democratization Minister Zadig Abraha denied the TPLF’s claims that they captured Aksum and shot down a plane.

He also said the TPLF were “not engaged in guerrilla warfare” but “are running for their lives”.

“Their base has disintegrated. Everyone surrenders,” he added.

Redwan Hussein, a senior federal official in Tigray, said government soldiers were careful not to involve civilians in their advance.

Troops “were just leaving the circled cities and then moving on to the next. So we won’t see a victim from our operation until we get to Mekelle,” he said.

How bad is the humanitarian situation?

On Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that supplies at Mekelle’s main hospital – including body bags – were “dangerously low” as doctors treated people involved in the fighting in the city.

However, there were no figures for the number of injuries or deaths. Nor was it stated whether the victims were civilians or soldiers.

Media signature“Every precaution is being taken to protect the civilian population,” said Prosecutor General Gedion Timothewos

Ethiopian officials have promised to allow humanitarian groups to work in Tigray, but the United Nations have said they are “extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of civilians in Tigray” and called for better access.

Ethiopia has deployed troops along the Tigray-Sudan border, according to refugees, to prevent people fleeing the violence from leaving the country.

Who is the TPLF?

The TPLF fighters, who come mainly from a paramilitary unit and a well-trained local militia, are believed to be around 250,000.

The organization was founded in the 1970s and led the uprising against the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was ousted in 1991.

It was then the dominant political force in the country until Mr Abiy became Prime Minister in 2018.

Mr Debretsion said the Tigray Forces were “ready to die to defend our right to govern our region”.

What is the fighting about?

The conflict is rooted in longstanding tensions between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, who ruled the entire country until Mr Abiy came to power in 2018.

When Mr Abiy postponed a national election due to coronavirus in June, relations continued to deteriorate.

The TPLF said the government’s ruling mandate had expired, arguing that Mr Abiy had not been tested in a national election.

In September, the party held its own elections, which the government called “illegal”.

Learn more about the Tigray crisis:

Media signatureThree consequences of the ongoing crisis in Tigray.

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