End of Ethiopia conflict coming within reach, says PM

Addis Ababa (AFP) –

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The end of military operations in Ethiopia's northern region of Tigray is "coming within reach", Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Tuesday, as the African Union called for an immediate halt to the fighting.

The prime minister sent troops and air force jets into Tigray last week in a campaign against the regional ruling party, which has been at odds with Abiy's government for months.

Abiy, last year's Nobel Peace laureate, said the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) had attacked two federal military bases, something the regional party has denied.

Tigray has been under a communications blackout ever since, making it difficult to weigh competing claims about casualties and who holds what territory.

Abiy said operations against the TPLF were "proceeding as planned".

"Operations will cease as soon as the criminal junta is disarmed, legitimate administration in the region restored, and fugitives apprehended & brought to justice -- all of them rapidly coming within reach," he posted on Twitter.

But Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, said the fighting must stop and urgent dialogue was needed "to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the country".

"The Chairperson appeals for the immediate cessation of hostilities and calls on parties to respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians," he said in a statement, offering the full support of the 55-member bloc for an Ethiopian-led resolution.

State media reported earlier on Tuesday that the Ethiopian military had "completely captured" an airport about 60 kilometres (35 miles) from the northwest town of Humera, close to the border with Sudan and Eritrea.

But the TPLF-controlled Tigray Mass Media Agency said Humera's population was "undertaking its normal peaceful activity" and that "information being disseminated by fascist Abiy Ahmed is far from the truth".

Two humanitarian sources told AFP on Monday that more than 20 Ethiopians -- civilians and soldiers -- had crossed into eastern Sudan.

Much of the fighting has reportedly been concentrated in western Tigray, near the border of Sudan and Eritrea.

The western town of Dansha was under federal control when AFP journalists travelled there on Monday, but it has been impossible to verify the military's claim that it controls other towns in the area.

The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority on Tuesday informed journalists accredited in Ethiopia that they would need to obtain a "supporting letter" before travelling to Tigray as well as "bordering conflict zones and different parts of the country".

It said the measure was intended "for the safety of journalists and to get cooperation from local administrations and military officials on the ground."