By John Ikani
Ethiopian forces have recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha from rebellious Tigrayan forces, the Government said on Monday, the latest sign of the Government retaking territory it recently lost.
Forces aligned with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had taken control of the towns, in the Amhara region, just over a month ago.
“In Shewa front, the Mezezo, Molale, Shewa Robit, Rasa and its surroundings have been freed from the terrorist TPLF,” Legesse said in comments broadcast on state media, referring to the TPLF which has been warring with the government for more than a year.
The Ethiopian Government under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said later on Wednesday that its forces had also recaptured the UNESCO World Heritage site Lalibela, which fell to Tigrayan fighters in August.
Pro-Abiy forces have “captured the historical town of Lalibela and Lalibela international airport,” the government communications service said in a statement.
The brutal conflict took a sharp turn about a month ago when Tigrayan forces claimed to have captured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, located on a key highway to Addis Ababa.
Legesse said the Government would “in a short period of time” retake Dessie, even as fighting reportedly rages on at least three fronts.
There was no immediate comment by the Tigrayan forces.
On Sunday, state media said the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said Tuesday such gains would be replicated in the Amhara region, where Dessie lies.
Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is heavily restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to corroborate.
Al Jazeera, however, was able to gain exclusive access to Chifra, the first international news organisation to do so.
“The scenes we witnessed are appalling,” Al Jazeera Arabic’s correspondent Mohammed Taha Tewekel reported from the town on Sunday.
“Dead bodies everywhere on the streets … proof of the ferociousness of the fighting. There are clear signs of the lack of humanity in this conflict.
“The town’s commercial shops were totally destroyed, even the mosques were not spared. All the residents have fled for their lives.”
Fears of a Tigrayan forces’ march on Addis Ababa have prompted the U.S., France, Britain, and other countries to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, as international mediation attempts failed to yield any results.
Abiy’s Government says their rivals’ gains are overstated and the capital is secure.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday tweeted images of a press briefing by China’s top diplomat Wang Yi during his visit to the country, quoting him as saying: “China stands against any interference in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs.”
Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced and hundreds of thousands have been driven to famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates, since fighting broke out in early November 2020.
In late November, government forces had seized Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, but by June, Tigrayan forces had retaken most of the region and pushed into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.