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Ethiopia's military claims it has seized control of several towns in the northern region of Tigray, BBC News reported.

The army has been locked in conflict with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) for weeks.

Lieutenant-General Hassan Ibrahim said the army had captured Wikro, north of the Tigrayan capital Mekelle, along with several other towns.

It comes a day after the government said it was beginning the "final phase" of an offensive in the region.

Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed and thousands have been forced from their homes as Ethiopian forces have seized towns.

In a meeting on Friday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told African peace envoys that civilians in the region would be protected. However, there was no mention about potential talks to bring the fighting to an end.

Previously, the prime minister said the military would try not to harm civilians in Mekelle—a city of 500,000 people—and urged residents to stay at home.

The TPLF party, which controls Mekelle, has vowed to keep fighting.

The UN has warned of possible war crimes if the Ethiopian army attacks Mekelle. The UN has also expressed concerns about the lack of access to the region for humanitarian workers.

More than 40,000 people have fled Ethiopia since the conflict began. On Thursday, Ethiopian troops were deployed along the Tigray region's border with Sudan, where they prevented people fleeing the violence from leaving the country, according to refugees.

Leader of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, has said Tigray forces are "ready to die in defense of our right to administer our region."

Aid groups fear the conflict could trigger a humanitarian crisis and destabilize the Horn of Africa region.

Ethiopia's state-appointed Human Rights Commission has accused a Tigrayan youth group of being behind a massacre earlier this month in which it says more than 600 non-Tigrayan civilians in the town of Mai-Kadra were killed. The TPLF has denied involvement.

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