Ethiopian government task force statement comes after Tigrayan fighters dismissed a government ceasefire as a “sick joke” and a political decision.
The Ethiopian army could re-enter the Tigray regional capital of Mekelle within weeks if needed, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian government task force said, adding a ceasefire declared was for humanitarian reasons.
It was the first public statement by any official in Ethiopia's federal government since Mekelle was seized by Tigrayan forces this week.
"Ethiopia is exposed to an attack from outsiders" because of the conflict, Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Ethiopian government's task force for Tigray, told reporters in apparent reference to Sudan.
On Monday, as the reports emerged of Tigrayan troops reaching downtown Mekelle, the regional capital, the federal government issued a statement declaring a unilateral ceasefire with immediate effect.
Tigray fighters reject ceasefire as 'sick joke'
The fighters now retaking parts of Ethiopia's Tigray region will pursue soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea back into their country and chase Ethiopian forces to Addis Ababa ”if that's what it takes" to weaken their military powers, their spokesperson said Tuesday, as a conflict that has killed thousands of civilians looked certain to continue.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesperson Getachew Reda said that “we’ll stop at nothing to liberate every square inch” of the Tigray region of 6 million people, nearly eight months after fighting erupted between the Tigray forces and Ethiopian soldiers backed by Eritrea.
The TPLF, an ethnically based political party that dominated Ethiopia's national politics for nearly three decades, has been battling the central government since early November. It made major territorial gains in the past week.
Reda rejected the unilateral cease-fire Ethiopia’s government as a “sick joke” and accused Ethiopia of long denying humanitarian aid to the Tigrayans it now “pretends to care about”. Ethiopia declared the unilateral ceasefire as its soldiers and hand-picked regional interim administration fled the Tigray regional capital following some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
“We want to stop the war as quickly as we can,” the Tigray spokesman said.
But he said liberating the region is not just about territory. “If there is still a menace next door,” whether it be in Eritrea, “extremists” from the neighbouring Amhara region who have occupied western Tigray or Ethiopian forces, it’s about assuring Tigrayans’ security, he said.
The comments were sure to bring new alarm from the United States, United Nations and others who have pressed for an end to the fighting in Africa's second most populous country that has sent hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans into the world's worst famine crisis in a decade.
This week's swift turn in the war has left people scrambling to understand the implications for Tigray, as communications links remained largely cut.
READ MORE: The unbearable lightness of war crimes