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Hope for peace as Ethiopia’s rebels withdraw

By Malkhadir Muhumed | Dec 21st 2021 | 2 min read
By Malkhadir Muhumed | December 21st 2021

Villagers return from a market to Yechila town in south central Tigray in Ethiopia. [Reuters]

The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) has ordered his forces to withdraw from all non-Tigrayan areas they occupied in recent months.

The surprise decision, contained in a letter the president of the Tigrayan region, Debretsion Gebremichael, wrote to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday, is a relief as the year-long conflict was threatening to spill over to the neighbouring countries, and posed fears of the disintegration of a nation of 117 million people.

“I have ordered those units of the Tigray army that are outside the borders to Tigray to withdraw to the borders of Tigray with immediate effect,” said Debretsion. While Debretsion has claimed that his “forces are intact and undefeated on the ground”, the fighters were on the back foot since early last month following back-to-back battlefield setbacks.

Pendulum of war

Before the pendulum of the war swung in favour of the Ethiopian army, the TPLF forces had, at one point, almost seized Addis Ababa, the capital. That development prompted the US and some other Western nations to call on their citizens to leave Addis Ababa.

The war between the two sides erupted on November 3, last year, when TPLF forces attacked a federal army base in Tigray region and tried to seize weapons, according to Addis Ababa. TPLF leaders called that attack a preemptive strike aimed at frustrating a federal government’s predetermined plan to attack the Tigrayan region.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigrayan leaders have been at loggerheads since Addis Ababa postponed national and regional elections on August 29, last year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The TPLF rejected the decision and went ahead with its own region’s elections on September 9, last year.  

In his letter, Debretsion has hoped that his “bold act will be a decisive opening for peace.”

It’s, however, not clear whether Abiy’s government will sit down with the leaders of a group it had dubbed a terrorist organisation.

Both the US and African Union have appointed envoys to mediate between the warring parties, but Addis Ababa has balked, calling the war an internal matter. Abiy also called his offensive against the TPLF a “law enforcement operation.”

At least tens of thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed during the war, whose battlefronts have kept shifting. The conflict left millions of Ethiopians in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

The federal army ousted the TPLF from power in 25 days and scattered its leaders, but months later the momentum shifted. On June 28, last year, TPLF forces retook their capital, Mekelle, and then pushed into neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions.

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