Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has given Tigrayan forces a 72-hour deadline to surrender.
Abiy posted a statement to social media, saying the government forces were now “in the third and final phase” of their military operation in the area.
“We urge you to surrender peacefully within the next 72 hours, recognizing that you are at a point of no return,” he added in a stern warning to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
“From now on, the fighting will be a tank battle,” spokesman Col. Dejene Tsegaye said late Saturday. “Our people in Mekele should be notified that they should protect themselves from heavy artillery.”
Last week, Tigrayan rebels vowed to turn the northern region into a “graveyard” for dictators after Ahmed accused the opposition-led local government in the Tigray region of attacking federal troops and attempting to “loot” military assets.
The conflict has led to the death of hundreds of civilians. Tens of thousands of Tigrayans have fled the country to neighboring country Sudan to escape ethnic violence.
“Attempting to rule the people of Tigray by force is like walking on a burning flame,” the Tigrayan statement reads. “Tigray will be the graveyard of dictators.”
Abiy has refused all invitations for peace talks to resolve the conflict.
The world is bracing itself for civil war.
The African Union said Saturday that it would send a special envoy to mediate between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF — but Abiy dismissed the announcement as “fake news.”
Susan Rice, the former US ambassador to the United Nations and US national security adviser who served in the Obama administration, tweeted Sunday that Abiy planned attack would amount to “war crimes.”