Ethiopia capital could be overrun in 'months if not weeks': Rebels

Ethiopia ordered residents of Addis Ababa to prepare to defend their neighbourhoods. PHOTO: NYTIMES

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa could be overrun by rebels within "months if not weeks", an Oromo group allied with Tigrayan fighters told AFP on Wednesday (Nov 3) as they advanced southwards.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government for a year, has claimed significant territorial gains in recent days, along with its ally the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).

Odaa Tarbii, spokesman for the OLA, which has also claimed recent advances in Amhara and in the Oromia region surrounding Addis Ababa, said his group intended to topple Mr Abiy's government, calling his removal "a foregone conclusion".

"If things continue in the current trajectory, then we are talking about a matter of months, if not weeks," he said, referring to OLA's move on Addis Ababa.

The comments came hours after Ethiopia declared a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday and ordered residents of Addis Ababa to prepare to defend their neighbourhoods.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Mr Abiy accused the rebel alliance of trying to turn Ethiopia into Libya and Syria, adding: "They are set to destroy a country, not to build it."

He also urged citizens to support the war effort, saying: "Victory over the threat posed by our enemies is unattainable if we do not work together."

Under the state of emergency, authorities can conscript "any military-age citizen who has weapons" or suspend media outlets believed to be "giving moral support directly or indirectly" to the TPLF, according to the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

Lawmakers were expected to approve the state of emergency on Wednesday, Fana said.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Wednesday the measures amounted to a "carte blanche to jail or kill Tigrayans at will".

"While the regime is teetering on the brink of collapse, #Abiy & his lieutenants are unleashing a reign of terror with a vengeance," he tweeted.

Tigray air strike

The federal government on Wednesday also announced a fresh air strike on Tigray, the latest in a campaign of aerial bombardments that began last month.

The strike on the town of Adi Bukray targeted a "military training centre" for the TPLF, government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said.

Mr Abiy sent troops into Tigray a year ago in response, he said, to TPLF attacks on army camps.

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The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had retaken most of Tigray and expanded into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.

In recent days, the TPLF has claimed control of two key cities in Amhara, about 400 kilometres north of Addis Ababa.

The government has denied claims of TPLF territorial gains which, if confirmed, would represent a major strategic advance.

Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify independently.

The escalating conflict has sparked alarm among the international community, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and several Western powers calling for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks.

The fighting has already killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to the UN.

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