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Ethiopia claims military gains to halt rebels

BBC News logo BBC News 01/12/2021

Ethiopian troops have recaptured several key towns from Tigrayan rebels trying to advance towards the capital, Addis Ababa, the government has said.

This included Shewa Robit, about 220km (135 miles) from Addis Ababa, it added.

The Tigray People's Liberation Font (TPLF) has not yet commented, and there is no independent confirmation of the government's claims.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went to the front lines last week to lead the fight-back against the rebels.

State-linked TV aired footage of him on Tuesday in military jungle fatigues, scanning the horizon with binoculars.

"The enemy is defeated. Our remaining task is to rout the enemy and destroy them," he told soldiers gathered under trees.

Although the TPLF has not commented on the government claims, its leader Debretsion Gebremichael wrote to the UN last week, raising concerns about drone strikes against civilians.

Ethiopia had received Chinese drones, as well as weapons from Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mr Gebremichael said.

There has not been any response to his claims.

China's Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Wang Yi is currently visiting Ethiopia. He is expected to meet Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, who has taken charge of the day-to-day running of government while Mr Abiy is on the battlefield.

China had opposed foreign "meddling" in Ethiopia as Mr Abiy's government came under pressure from the US and some European countries over reports of human rights abuses during the civil war.

The conflict erupted a year ago in the northern Tigray region, and has since spread to other regions as the rebels launched an offensive to reach Addis Ababa in the south and the border with Djibouti in the east.

On Wednesday, government spokesman Legesse Tulu was quoted by state media as saying government forces were confident of retaking "in a short period of time" the historic city of Lalibela, a Unesco site famous for its rock-hewn churches, and Dessie, a strategic city leading to both Addis Ababa and the border with Djibouti, which is crucial for getting supplies to landlocked Ethiopia.

This followed the capture of Shewa Robit, as well as several surrounding areas, Mr Legesse said.

Fears of the rebels advancing on Addis Ababa had earlier led several countries, including the US and UK, to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia.

Abiy boosts morale

Analysis by Ferdinand Omondi, BBC News, Nairobi

If the Ethiopian government is telling the truth about its victories, then the civil war is at a turning point.

Ethiopians loyal to the government were getting deflated.

Tigrayan forces made it look like they were advancing on Addis Ababa and about to topple the federal government.

The prime minister called for civilians to take up arms, and went to the war-front himself. Now follows a stream of reports that Tigrayan rebels are being defeated on several fronts.

If true, then the prime minister is on his way to victory and his legacy will be rendered immortal.

If not, then he is simply buying time, and hoping that the propaganda finally rings true.

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