Ethiopia's conflict-torn northern Tigray region has been hit by an electricity blackout, the government said Wednesday, blaming the outage on the ousted ruling party in the semi-autonomous zone.
Tigray has been the theatre of fighting since early November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), accusing them of attacking federal army camps.
He declared victory after pro-government troops took regional capital Mekele in late November, though the TPLF vowed to fight on, and clashes have persisted in the region, hampering efforts to deliver sorely-needed humanitarian assistance.
In a press statement, the state utility firm Ethiopia Electricity Power (EEP) said TPLF "remnants" had attacked a high-voltage line carrying electricity to Mekele, "causing total electricity blackout in the region".
The statement didn't mention the date of the alleged attack, however a resident of Mekele told AFP the power had gone out on Tuesday evening.
The resident said fear was growing in the capital of an offensive by the TPLF, with security forces reportedly digging trenches on the outskirts of the city.
He said tension was high, with red and yellow flags associated with the TPLF and red and yellow balloons cropping up around the city in recent days.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda on Tuesday gave an interview to a US-based television station, denying they were planning an imminent offensive.
"Currently, we're not in a hurry to free our cities. The cities are our own. We will do the utmost effort to ensure our cities can't be centres of destruction," Getachew told the Tigrai Media House (TMH).
Separately on Wednesday, The Tigray council of religious institutions -- representing Ethiopian Orthodox, Catholic, Islamic and evangelical churches -- issued a statement calling for the withdrawal of forces from Eritrea and neighbouring Amhara regional state from the region.
Eritrea and Ethiopia deny that Eritrean soldiers are involved in the Tigray conflict.
But their presence has been described by residents, aid workers and even some civilian and military officials in Tigray.
"The Ethiopian federal government should force the Eritrean and Amhara region security forces to leave the Tigray region. These two forces have committed widespread rapes, looting, killings as well as engaged in the destruction of infrastructure and religious sites," the statement said.
It also condemned the partial destruction of al-Nejashi Mosque, one of the oldest mosques on the continent, and referred to alleged damage to Debre-Damo, one of the region's famed clifftop monasteries, believed to date back to the sixth century.
Tigray has been cut off from the internet since the start of the conflict.
The United Nations' humanitarian agency OCHA said last week that "much of the rural areas, where 80 percent of the population lived prior to the conflict, remain cut off from humanitarian assistance."