Villagers return from a market to Yechila town in south central Tigray walking past scores of burned vehicles, in Tigray, Ethiopia, in this July 10 2021 file photo. REUTERS/GIULIA PARAVICINI
Villagers return from a market to Yechila town in south central Tigray walking past scores of burned vehicles, in Tigray, Ethiopia, in this July 10 2021 file photo. REUTERS/GIULIA PARAVICINI

Ethiopia’s government said its forces recaptured a swathe of territory in the north of the country in a major counteroffensive against fighters loyal to the dissident Tigray province and have gained the upper hand in a year-long civil war.  

Fighting has engulfed Africa’s second-most populous nation since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered troops into Tigray in retaliation for an attack on a federal army base. The conflict, which shows no signs of abating, has hammered investor confidence in what was one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and sparked a sell-off in the nation’s bonds. 

After initially being pushed out of the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front struck back and its troops retook the city, most of the province and parts of the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions. That raised fears they could sever trade routes or even stage a strike against the capital, Addis Ababa.

“The Ethiopian Defence Forces have launched a counteroffensive on the terrorist organisation and the prime minister is now leading this from the front,” Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokesperson, said in the capital on Tuesday. “In the past few days alone, great strides have been made in forcing the TPLF to relinquish their occupation of key areas” and the threat that they could choke off the country has been averted, she said.  

The government’s claims couldn’t be independently verified. There was no immediate response from Tigray officials, who have previously said they were winning and their forces had advanced to within 220km of the capital.

On Wednesday, Abiy’s office said the government offensive had led to rebel forces being pushed out of several villages and towns along or near the main road between Tigray and Addis Ababa.

Thousands of people have died in the conflict and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced. Humanitarian agencies say more than 1-million people are in need of aid.

Billene accused the mainstream media of spreading a “false narrative” that exaggerated the extent of the war, “ignoring the fact there is no more fighting in Tigray and peddling libellous stories of ethnic cleansing and genocide by the government”.

The US, Britain, France and other Western nations have urged their citizens to leave Ethiopia, and the UN has evacuated most of its staff. 

The EU has warned that there’s a risk of Ethiopia disintegrating unless the two sides agree to a ceasefire. AU envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, is spearheading efforts to broker a truce. 

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