Hopes for ceasefire in Ethiopia as Tigrayan forces ‘withdraw’ from regions

Thousands of civilians killed as result of conflict as 400,000 face famine in Tigray

Tigrayan forces fighting the central government have withdrawn from neighbouring regions in Ethiopia’s north, a Tigrayan forces spokesman said on Monday, a step towards a possible ceasefire after major territorial gains by the Ethiopian military.

The 13-month-old war in Africa’s second most populous nation has destabilised an already fragile region, sent 60,000 refugees into Sudan, pulled Ethiopian soldiers away from war-ravaged Somalia and sucked in armed forces from neighbouring Eritrea.

“We have just completed the withdrawal of our forces from both Amhara and Afar regions,” said Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party controlling most of the northerly region of Tigray.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Getachew added that the TPLF hoped the pullout would induce the international community to put pressure on the governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea, allies in the conflict, to cease military operations in Tigray.


TPLF head Debretsion Gebremichael called for a no-fly zone for hostile aircraft over Tigray, arms embargoes on Ethiopia and Eritrea, and a UN mechanism to verify that external armed forces have left Tigray – all requests that the Ethiopian government is likely to oppose.

“We trust that our bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace,” wrote Debretsion Gebremichael, head of the rebellious Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party controlling most of the northern region of Tigray.

Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and the prime minister’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Thousands of civilians have been killed as a result of the conflict, around 400,000 are facing famine in Tigray and 9.4 million people need food aid across northern Ethiopia.

Mr Debretsion said he hoped the Tigrayan withdrawal would force the international community to ensure that food aid could enter Tigray.

The United Nations has previously accused the government of operating a de facto blockade – a charge Addis Ababa has denied. RARE OPPORTUNITY FOR PEACE

The TPLF accuses Mr Abiy of wanting to centralise power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regions. Mr Abiy denies the accusation. Mr Abiy, whose appointment in 2018 brought nearly three decades of TPLF dominance over Ethiopia to an end, says the TPLF wanted to hang onto central power – something the Tigrayan leadership denies.

Will Davison, senior analyst for Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group think tank, said the TPLF letter represented a “significant opportunity for peace talks”.

“There are reasons to think this rare opportunity might lead to a peace process and cessation of hostilities,” he said.

A significant shift in the Tigrayan position, he said, was the abandonment of their demand that hostile forces withdraw from Western Tigray as a precondition for peace talks, as well as a concession that this could come about as part of an internationally backed peace process.

Any Tigrayan demands to keep their forces intact might be hard for the Ethiopian government to swallow, he said, but a gradual process might be possible. He added that other trust-building measures might be under way, such as the federal government releasing jailed political leaders. – Reuters