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Ethiopia claims to retake town near capital from rebels

The fighting has killed thousands, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.

In Summary

•In recent days, state media has broadcast images of a uniformed Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, in what appeared to be the northeastern region of Afar. 

•On Sunday, state media claimed the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said Tuesday such gains would be replicated in Amhara region, where Dessie lies. 

Ethiopia said Wednesday that pro-government forces had recaptured of Shewa Robit, around 220 kilometres (135 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa by road, after Tigrayan rebels claimed control of the town last week as part of their advance towards the capital.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said Shewa Robit was among several small towns retaken by forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who last week announced he would head to the battlefield as fighting reportedly rages on at least three fronts in the country.

"In Shewa front, the Mezezo, Molale, Shewa Robit, Rasa and its surroundings have been freed from the terrorist TPLF," Legesse said in comments broadcast on state media, referring to the Tigray People's Liberation Front which has been locked in a war with Abiy's government since November 2020.

The conflict took a sharp turn around a month ago, when the TPLF claimed to have captured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, located on a key highway to the capital.

Legesse said the government would "in a short period of time" retake Dessie and Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site which fell to the rebels in August, even as fighting reportedly spreads to Debre Sina, a town located less than 200 kilometres by road from Addis Ababa.

In recent days, state media has broadcast images of a uniformed Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, in what appeared to be the northeastern region of Afar. 

On Sunday, state media claimed the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said Tuesday such gains would be replicated in Amhara region, where Dessie lies. 

Fears of a rebel march on Addis Ababa have prompted the United States, France, Britain and other countries to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, though Abiy's government says TPLF gains are overstated and the city is secure. 

Mounting alarm

The war has led to mounting alarm among Western nations, particularly the US, which once saw Abiy as a reformer and key ally.

Although Washington has been openly critical of Abiy's handling of the war, China and Russia have been more circumspect.

Ethiopia's foreign ministry on Wednesday tweeted images of a press briefing by China's top diplomat Wang Yi during his visit to the country, quoting him as saying: "China stands against any interference in Ethiopia's domestic affairs."

The war erupted when Abiy sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF -- a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps. 

The fighting has killed thousands, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.