Ethiopia's military is planning to enter the Tigray regional capital of Mekelle and "eliminate" rebellious forces, a top military official said late on Friday amid diplomatic efforts to end conflict in the country's north.
The Horn of Africa country has been gripped by war for more than a year, with the federal military and its allies battling forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that controls Tigray.
This week two top US diplomats flew into Addis Ababa to push for a ceasefire, trying to build on tentative signs of a thaw in relations between warring parties, including the release of political prisoners.
In an interview with state-affiliated media outlet Fana broadcast late on Friday, Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) deputy army chief, General Abebaw Tadesse said the country would not be at peace until the TPLF was eliminated.
"Tigray is part of Ethiopia and no force will stop us from entering. We will enter and we will eliminate the enemy. There shouldn't be any confusion about this," he said.
"The people of Ethiopia shouldn't think that it is over, it is not over. The main thing here is we have stopped because we have to prepare ourselves. This enemy is still there, and it has to be absolutely eliminated. We will not negotiate with them."
The TPLF's spokesman, Getachew Reda, could not be reached for a comment on the military official's remarks.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The TPLF says Abiy wants to end the country's ethnically-based federal government system while Abiy says the TPLF is hungry to seize the national power it once held.
For months there has been an uneasy stalemate between the two sides, punctuated by sporadic fighting. TPLF forces control most of Tigray but are surrounded by hostile forces from neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara which are allied with the federal military.
The conflict, which broke out in November 2020, has displaced millions and triggered widespread hunger.
In recent months there have been multiple diplomatic and political efforts to end it, including pressure from the United States.
Sudan's second most powerful leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, arrived in Ethiopia's capital on Saturday, Abiy said in a tweet, but the purpose of his visit was not disclosed.
His visit comes amid tensions along the border between Sudan and Ethiopia that have escalated since the outbreak of the conflict that has sent tens of thousands of refugees into eastern Sudan.