Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will 'destroy' Tigray rebels

People walks next to a banner depicting Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a rally organised by Addis Ababa officials, bringing together artists and athletes headed to visit troops on the front line with rebels of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 27, 2021. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • International alarm is growing over a possible rebel assault on the capital, with the US, the UK, Germany and Italy all on the list of countries urging their citizens to leave Ethiopia. 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his soldiers would "destroy" rebels from the northern Tigray region, in the latest instalment of state media footage purportedly showing him at the war front.

"You are comprehensively destroying the enemy, there is no going back without winning," Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in the 34-minute clip posted Saturday to his office's Twitter page.

"We will win, the enemy is dispersing, there are areas we have to control," he added. 

"Until we destroy the enemy there is no rest." 

Abiy announced this week he would start leading operations against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which once dominated national politics but has been locked in a gruesome war with his government for the past year. 

The announcement has spurred new recruitment in Addis Ababa.

The country's most famous distance runner, Haile Gebreselassie, told AFP he was determined to "sacrifice and stand for Ethiopia". 

The TPLF, he added, "is destabilising our country beyond its region". 

On Wednesday state-affiliated media announced Abiy had handed over regular duties to his deputy. 

His move came after the TPLF reported major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220 kilometres (135 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa. 

The TPLF has aligned itself with other armed groups including the Oromo Liberation Army, which is active in the Oromia region surrounding the city. 

On Friday, state media showed what it described as the first footage of Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel, in uniform at the front, including an interview in which he vowed to "bury the enemy". 

He also said the military had secured control of Kassagita and planned to recapture Chifra district and Burka town in Afar region, which neighbours Tigray, the TPLF's stronghold. 

Independent media have largely been denied access to war-affected regions in recent weeks. 

Visiting troops 

On Saturday officials in Addis Ababa held a ceremony for athletes and artists heading north to visit troops. 

Among those saying they'll fight is Feyisa Lilesa, a distance runner and Olympic silver medallist. 

The war erupted in early November 2020 when Abiy deployed troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps. 

Though he promised a swift victory, by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of Tigray, and it has since pushed into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions. 

The African Union's special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading a diplomatic push for a ceasefire, but there have been few signs of progress so far. 

International alarm is growing over a possible rebel assault on the capital, with the US, the UK, Germany and Italy all on the list of countries urging their citizens to leave Ethiopia. 

France joined the group this week and on Sunday plans to ferry some citizens out on a charter flight. 

The government insists rebel gains are overstated, blaming what it describes as sensational media coverage and alarmist security advisories from embassies for creating panic.

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