Hours after the Federal Government of Ethiopia declared unilateral ceasefire in the region, Soldiers from Eritrea have withdrawn from three key towns in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
For months, the Eritrean troops have been controlling sections of Northern Tigray, there has been claims of human rights abuse, rape and murder in the region.
Eritrean soldiers, accused by witnesses of some of the war’s worst atrocities, left the towns of Shire, Axum and Adwa but it was not immediately clear whether they had left other communities, where they were going, or whether the retreat was temporary. The information ministry of Eritrea, described by human rights groups as one of the world’s most repressive countries, did not immediately respond to questions.
The Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Godec, told the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday that “we don’t yet know if they are withdrawing.”
He added the U.S. still has seen no statement from Eritrea, nor from the Tigray fighters, saying they are committed to the cease-fire
Godec disclosed that Tigray’s former leaders said they are now in control of the regional capital, Mekele, after “what appears to be a significant withdrawal of Ethiopian national defense forces from Tigray,” .
The Tigray leaders, who have waged a guerrilla war since November after a political falling-out with the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in a statement issued overnight called on supporters to “intensify their struggle until our enemies completely leave Tigray.”
The arrival of Tigray forces in Mekele on Monday was met with cheers after the interim regional administration, appointed by Ethiopia’s government, fled.
Tigray fighters then moved into Shire on Tuesday, their latest gain after some of the most intense fighting of the war in Africa’s second most populous country. Shire in recent months saw the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing intimidation in western Tigray and is a key staging area for humanitarian aid.
International Crisis Group analyst William Davison in a statement said the Tigray forces are now in control of more of the region after a major counteroffensive with mass popular support,
Davison urged the Ethiopia’s government not to sabotage the urgent humanitarian efforts, according to him preventing growing famine conditions in the region “has to be the priority of the TDF’s leadership, given their forces are now in a position to facilitate access to many previously hard to reach areas.”
Major questions remain about the fate that more than 1 million civilians remain in parts of Tigray that have been hard, and impossible, to reach with international aid.
Sarah Charles, Assistant to the Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, urged Ethiopia to lift the “communications blackout” on Tigray and said forces from the neighboring Amhara region who have occupied western Tigray must lift checkpoints on key roads for aid delivery.
Ethiopia has said the cease-fire is in part for the delivery of aid but will last only until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray, which is in September.