Tigray leaders, affected by the war in Ethiopia, have pledged to drive “enemies” out of the region, suggesting that the fighting will continue despite a declaration to cease fire by the federal government.
Tigrayan forces conducted “mop-up” operations Tuesday against Ethiopian government forces withdrawing from the regional capital Mekelle and the city was “100 percent” back under its control.
“Twenty-five minutes ago the active engagement in Mekelle was over,” Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters news agency by satellite phone. “Our forces are still on a losing hunt to the south, to the east.”
A spokesman for the prime minister, a military spokesman, and the head of the government’s emergency team in Tigray did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Eritrean forces – which have fought alongside Ethiopian troops – are no longer visible in the town of Shire in Tigray, a witness told Reuters.
The withdrawal follows days of territorial gains by Tigrayan forces in fighting with the Ethiopian government and its allies.
The witness, who refused to be named for security reasons, said Eritrean soldiers had not been seen since Monday evening. A second resident confirmed that there was a large movement of Eritrean troops out of Shire towards a town in the north.
A serious blow
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent federal troops to Tigray last November to oust the TPLF government. He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised victory would be swift.
But nearly eight months later, the operation suffered a serious blow when rebel troops entered Mekelle on Monday, sparking street celebrations as federal soldiers and members of an interim regional government appointed by Abiy fled.
The Abiy government announced then on Monday evening that it was declare a “unilateral ceasefire” – even if there was no immediate response from the TPLF.
“The Tigray government and army are performing all the necessary functions to ensure the survival and safety of our people,” a TPLF statement said. “The Tigray government is calling on our people and Tigray’s army to intensify their struggle until our enemies completely abandon Tigray.”
A guerrilla war
Hiba Morgan of Al Jazeera, reported from Khartoum in neighboring Sudan, said the announcement of the ceasefire by the federal government is an admission that the Ethiopian national defense forces are not in the same position as they are. they were only a week ago.
“Let us not forget that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – on 28 November, just three weeks after the offensive on the Tigray region – announced that the war was largely over, that there is stability and the [new] government, ”Morgan said.
“It did not announce a ceasefire then. The Tigray Liberation Movement said they will continue to fight even if it is a guerrilla war, which is what apparently took place a few months after the announcement. of the Abyy “.
Although Tigray’s defense forces have not held any large cities and towns for months, their leaders have repeatedly boasted that they were gathering in remote rural areas.
Last week, they launched a major offensive that coincided with the much-anticipated national elections in Ethiopia, which took place in much of the country but not in Tigray.
The results of the polls have not yet been announced, but are widely expected to convey to Abiy a formal mandate.
“Difficult” road to peace
The brutal war in Tigray has been marked by massacres, widespread sexual violence and other abuses.
The UN has also warned that the conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.
Announcing its ceasefire, the federal government said it would last until the end of the current “agricultural season” and was intended to facilitate agricultural production and distribution of aid while allowing the rebels to “return to a peaceful road “.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he had spoken with Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and “hoped that an effective cessation of hostilities would take place”.
He called the recent events in Tigray “extremely disturbing” saying that they “demonstrate, once again, that there is no military solution to the crisis”.
Britain, the United States and Ireland have called for an emergency public meeting of the UN Security Council, which could take place on Friday, diplomatic sources said.
The Security Council has not been able to hold a public session on Tigray since the war, with several African countries, China, Russia and other nations considering the crisis an internal Ethiopian affair.
During the fighting, Abiy took advantage of the military support of soldiers from neighboring Eritrea and the Amhara region in Ethiopia, which borders Tigray to the south.
The engagement of these forces “will complicate the general application of a temporary ceasefire, which now appears to be a primarily unilateral move by the federal government,” said Connor Vasey, an analyst with the Eurasia risk advisory group.
If discussions about a possible political settlement are made, “they are likely to be difficult and protracted,” Vasey said.