ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia/UM RAKUBA, Sudan (Reuters) – Government forces captured two towns from rebel forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the government said on Friday, and Tigrayan fighters fired rockets at an airport in a neighbouring region.
The rocket attack on Bahir Dar, capital of Asmara region, raised concerns that the two-week-old conflict between the Tigrayan rebels and the central government could spiral into a wider war.
The United Nations meanwhile said it was making plans for as many as 200,000 refugees fleeing into neighboring Sudan.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed and tens of thousands of refugees have already fled from fighting in Tigray as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tries to hold his ethnically diverse nation together.
Ethiopian government forces are fighting their way towards Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital, from several directions.
In the north, Ethiopian troops took the towns of Axum and Adwa, a government statement said. They are now advancing toward the town of Adigrat, about 80 miles north of Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray and home to about half a million people.
“Many fighters of the junta have surrendered,” the statement said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Tigrayan forces were not available for comment but in a televised address, spokesman Getachew Reda said their fighters have inflicted “increasing causalties” in Raya, to the south of Mekelle.
Tigrayan fighters also “eliminated enemy forces” from Mehoni in the south and Zalambessa to the northeast, Tigrayan TV said.
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A government spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.
It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet links to Tigray have been severed since the conflict began.
Reda’s address also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack in the early hours of Friday on the airport in Bahir Dar, which Amhara authorities had announced earlier in the day.
He said it was in retaliation for bombing raids launched from there. “We will continue to target whichever airport has been used to stage an attack on Tigray,” he said.