(Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia has recaptured two strategic towns that provide access to a main trade route, its government said, marking a significant advance by troops loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Dessie and Kombolcha in the northern Amhara region were taken by forces belonging to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in late October as dissident forces locked in a yearlong conflict with the government pushed further south and threatened to march on the capital Addis Ababa.

The prime minister’s office on Twitter on Monday credited the recapture of the towns and four others to troops led by Abiy. With phone lines cut off and internet services down, Bloomberg was not able to independently verify the government’s claims.

Last week the government also said it had retook a swathe of territory in the north of the country in a major counter-offensive.

In recent days, the TPLF has admitted that it has retreated from certain territories due to a change in its strategy in the war against Abiy’s government.

“In the past few days, we decided that we needed to make territorial adjustments and left some of the territories we had reached in order to minimize vulnerability,” Tadesse Werede, the head of the Tigray region’s armed forces, said in a televised interview late last week. “This is not something we did because we were overpowered.”

He also said that plans were underway to reverse the government’s gains.

Fighting has engulfed Africa’s second-most populous nation since Abiy in November 2020 ordered an incursion into Tigray in retaliation for an attack on a federal army base. The conflict, which shows no signs of letting up, has hammered investor confidence in what was one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and sparked a sell-off in the nation’s bonds. 

In June, Tigray forces took back full control of the region after months of relentless violence that brought with it widespread human rights abuses such as rape and atrocities against civilians. Since then rebel soldiers have extended fighting into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions and carried out their own crimes, rights groups say. The government declared a state of emergency last month as Tigray fighters moved closer to Addis Ababa.

The civil war has left millions displaced and at least 9.4 million people in need of food aid in the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions, according to the U.N.’s World Food Programme.

The U.S. and the European Union are both considering punitive measures against Ethiopia and the TPLF -- which was the country’s preeminent power broker for decades before it was sidelined by Abiy -- over their failure to end the crisis.

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