Rebels in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, who have been at war with the federal Army for more than a year, have announced that they are withdrawing from the cities they occupied in neighboring Afar and Amhara regions in a withdrawal movement. towards the north, according to what Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), assured different media on Monday. Their goal is “to open the door to humanitarian aid,” Reda said. This withdrawal was one of the conditions demanded by the Ethiopian Government to enter into peace negotiations.
Among the cities from which the Tigrayan rebels have withdrawn is the mythical Lalibela, a World Heritage Site and known throughout the world for its rock-carved churches, which has passed from the hands of one side to the other in several times in the last few months. “We are withdrawing phase by phase, we started several weeks ago, but we announce it now,” the TPLF spokesman assured France Presse (AFP).
The rebels maintain their demand that the federal government “lift the siege of Tigray” to allow aid to reach this region where there is a humanitarian crisis as a result of the conflict, with tens of thousands of people threatened by famine. “We hope that with this withdrawal the international community will do something about the situation in Tigray because they can no longer use as an excuse that our forces are occupying Amhara and Afar,” Reda added to Reuters.
The federal government announced this weekend the recovery of many cities in the Amhara and Afar regions that had fallen into rebel hands. Through a statement published on social networks, the government communication service assured on Saturday that federal troops had managed to seize control of Sanqa, Sirinqa, Woldiya, Hara, Gobiye, Robit and Kobo, while the next day it proclaimed the taking of Lalibela. “The enemy troops that escaped destruction have fled (…) and are being followed by our allied forces,” said the aforementioned statement.
In any case, this withdrawal comes after the federal Army launched a counteroffensive at the end of November to stop the advance of the Tigrayan rebels and their allied groups, which came to be located some 200 kilometers from the capital, Addis Ababa, carrying even to several countries to recommend their citizens to leave the city before the possible arrival of the conflict, an option that seems increasingly distant. For about two weeks Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed himself, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, led his troops, managing to recapture the key cities of Dessie, Kombolcha, Chifra, Hamusit and Istayish.
On the other hand, the UN on Friday gave the green light to the creation of an international mechanism to investigate the human rights violations committed during this conflict, a decision that has received harsh criticism from the Ethiopian government. “The accusations against my country are unfounded,” said Zenebe Kebede, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United Nations, predicting that this commission could make things worse on the ground. African countries showed their support for Addis Ababa, assuring that this mechanism was “counterproductive and likely to exacerbate tensions,” according to Cameroonian ambassador Salomon Eheth. A joint UN-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigation concluded that all parties to the conflict had committed possible war crimes, massacres and human rights violations.
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The Ethiopian conflict erupted in November 2020 after Ahmed accused the TPLF of having attacked two military bases causing extensive damage and deaths, attacks that the rebels deny. Following Ahmed’s rise to power, the Tigrayans have been progressively displaced from the main institutions and political center they occupied for two decades, opening the door to mounting tension. In 2020, the TPLF organized an election in Tigray in clear disobedience to the federal government, which had suspended all elections due to the covid-19 pandemic.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.