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A destoyed tank during the fighting between the Ethiopian forces and the TPLF A destoyed tank during the fighting between the Ethiopian forces and the TPLF 

Ethiopia: Tigrayan forces announce withdrawal from neighbouring regions

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said its forces will be pulling out from several neighbouring areas of northern Ethiopia and returning back to Tigray. TPLF leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said the move will be “a decisive opening for peace.”

By Vatican News staff writer

Tigrayan forces engaged in a war with the central government in Ethiopia have said that they would withdraw from neighbouring areas in the country’s northern region, in a step towards a possible ceasefire after over a year of brutal conflict.

In a letter addressed to the UN on Monday, the head of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, said that he had ordered the units of the Tigray Army that are outside the borders of Tigray to withdraw to the borders of Tigray with immediate effect, adding that they trust that the “bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace.”

“We propose an immediate cessation of hostilities followed by negotiations,” Gebremichael said, urging the UN not to let “another opportunity for peace pass without decisive action.”

TPLF demands

The TPLF leader’s letter came with demands for a raft of measures, including establishing a no-fly zone for hostile aircraft over Tigray (except for humanitarian and civil purposes), imposing arms embargoes on Ethiopia and its ally Eritrea, and for a UN mechanism to verify that external armed forces had withdrawn from Tigray.

He also proposed an airbridge and/or a humanitarian corridor to Tigray under a de-militarized route designated for the safe passage of humanitarian supplies to assure “sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and items essential to survival.”

Gebremichael said that the war in Tigray has brought “enormous suffering to the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea” and mourned those who had died in the battlefield, as well as the victims of the widening war in other parts of Ethiopia including “the families who go to bed hungry, the sick who cannot obtain medicine, and the students whose hopes of an education and a bright future are dashed.”

Ethiopia’s conflict

The conflict in Ethiopia erupted in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched an offensive against the TPLF after he said they had attacked army camps.

Ahmed promised a swift victory over the Tigrayan forces but the fighting has continued for 13 months. The government troops seized Tigray’s capital but by June, the TPLF launched a counterattack that saw them retake much of their region and extend the fighting into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions. The Ethiopian government called for a ceasefire in June but Tigrayan forces continued to make significant gains.

At the end of November, the Ethiopian military began an offensive to push back the advancing Tigrayan forces, regaining control of strategic territories including the towns of Dessie, Kombolcha and Shewa Robit, a town 135 miles from the capital Addis Ababa.

Efforts from the international community, including the African Union (AU) and the US have tried to negotiate a ceasefire between the warring sides but the fighting has continued, with PM Ahmed announcing in November that he would be joining the conflict on the ground.

Spokesperson for the TPLF, Getachew Reda, said on Twitter that the withdrawal had been completed in two regions, Amhara and Afar, noting that the move takes away any excuse the international community may have not to put pressure on Ethiopian authorities to stop the fighting.

The war in Africa’s second-most populous nation has killed thousands of people and has sparked a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia with an estimated 400,000 people facing famine-like conditions in Tigray, and over 9.4 million in need of food aid. The fighting has also displaced over 2 million people who have been forced to flee the region in search of safer conditions.

21 December 2021, 12:19