Ethiopia says it has recaptured towns from Tigray rebels

Both sides in the conflict have claimed major territorial advances in recent months

Egyptian government troops in Kombolcha, Ethiopia, Amhara region. Government forces claim to have recaptured several towns in Amhara. AFP

Ethiopian forces have recaptured several towns from Tigrayan rebels, including Kobo and Woldiya in the north, the government said Saturday,

This comes as fierce fighting continues to rage in the 13-month war that has killed thousands.

The conflict between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People's Liberation Front rebel group has led to a severe humanitarian crisis and prompted the UN's top rights body to order an international probe into alleged abuses.

Mr Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, announced last month that he would head to the front line. Since then, government has claimed to have retaken several key towns.

Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted, making it difficult to verify battlefield claims.

But on Saturday, the government communication service said pro-Abiy forces “have managed to fully control Sanqa, Sirinqa, as well as the cities of Woldiya, Hara, Gobiye, Robit and Kobo”.

“The enemy force which escaped from destruction and was fleeing ... is being followed by our allied forces”, it said.

Since late October, both sides have claimed major territorial advances, with several key cities apparently changing hands.

On Sunday, the rebels recaptured the Unesco World Heritage site of Lalibela – famed for its rock-cut churches – 11 days after Ethiopian forces claimed to have retaken it from the TPLF.

The rebels recaptured the Unesco World Heritage site of Lalibela, famed for its rock-cut churches. AFP

The war broke out in November 2020 when Mr Abiy sent troops into Ethiopia's northernmost region of Tigray to topple the TPLF, accusing them of attacking army camps.

He promised a swift victory but the rebels mounted a comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June, before advancing into neighbouring regions Afar and Amhara – where Kobo and Woldiya are located.

The fighting has displaced more than two million people and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates, with reports of massacres and mass rapes by both sides.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send international investigators to Africa's second most populous nation – amid warnings of looming generalised violence – in a move slammed by Addis Ababa.

Diplomatic efforts led by the African Union to try to reach a ceasefire have failed to achieve any visible breakthrough.

Fears of a rebel march on the capital prompted countries such as the US, France and Britain to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible. Mr Abiy's government has insisted the city is secure.

Updated: December 18th 2021, 1:42 PM