Ethiopia’s Prime Minister said that his army is advancing on the capital of the northern region of Tigray where soldiers from the region are fighting the central government.
The government accused Tigray’s forces of destroying bridges near the city of Mekelle to halt the advance, the BBC reported.
Hundreds of people have reportedly died in nearly two weeks of clashes.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed suggested on Tuesday that the fighting was coming to an end, saying “the final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days.”
The conflict is rooted in long-standing tension between powerful Tigrayan party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s central government.
When Abiy postponed a national election due to coronavirus in June, tension escalated between the two groups. The TPLF sees the central government as illegitimate, arguing Mr Abiy no longer has a mandate to lead the country.
The government accused the TLPF of attacking a military base to steal weapons, which the TPLF denied. In response, Abiy ordered a military offensive, accusing the TPLF of treason.
A three-day deadline given by Prime Minister Abiy to Tigray’s forces to surrender expired on Tuesday.
As government forces advanced on Mekelle, Abiy’s officials said that Tigrayan soldiers responded by destroying four bridges and a section of a road between the city and towns of Shire and Axum.
The TPLF have not commented on the accusations.
At least 27,000 people have fled over the northern border to Sudan as the UN warned a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding.
TPLF adviser Fesseha Tessema, a former Ethiopian diplomat, told the BBC that civilian sites in Mekelle were being bombed by federal forces.
“[The people of Tigray] haven’t done anything wrong, they are in their own homes, churches,” Fesseha said.
The federal government has denied targeting civilians and said that air attacks are aimed at the Tigrayan military.
Abiy suggested that a number of TLPF fighters had switched sides to the government but he did not say how many.
He added that his government was “ready to receive and reintegrate our fellow Ethiopians fleeing to neighbouring countries”.