Abiy’s government has been trying to quell a rebellion by a powerful ethnic faction that dominated the central government for decades before he came to power in 2018.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed, and nearly 44,000 have fled to Sudan, in a conflict that has called into question whether Abiy can hold together fractious ethnic groups in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country.
“I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region,” the prime minister said in a tweet. Less than an hour earlier, he said in a statement, “The federal government is now fully in control of the city of Mekelle”.
However, the leader of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whose forces have been fighting Ethiopian troops, said the group was not giving up.
“Their brutality can only add (to) our resolve to fight these invaders to the last,” TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters in a text message.
“Asked by Reuters if that meant his forces would continue fighting, he replied: “Certainly. This is about defending our right to self-determination.”
There was no immediate response from the government.
In his statement, Abiy said federal police would continue searching for and detaining TPLF “criminals” and would bring them to court. The prime minister has called the offensive a law and order operation.
It was not clear if any TPLF leaders had surrendered. Debretsion said in another text message that their forces were withdrawing from around Mekelle.
Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down and access tightly controlled since the fighting began on Nov. 4.
Authorities had said earlier on Saturday that government forces were in the final stages of an offensive in the region and would take care to protect civilians in Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people.
Abiy said the army had secured the release of thousands of troops from the army’s Northern Command, which is based in Tigray, who he said had been held hostage by the TPLF.