ADDIS ABABA: Dissident leaders in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray have vowed to drive out “enemies” from the region, suggesting fighting will continue despite a federal government cease-fire declaration.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to oust the northern region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps, and vowed that victory would be swift.
But almost eight months on, the operation suffered a serious blow when rebels known as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) entered the regional capital Mekele on Monday, prompting celebrations in the streets as federal soldiers and members of an Abiy-appointed interim regional government fled.
Abiy’s government then announced Monday night it was declaring a “unilateral cease-fire,” though there was no immediate response from the TDF.
A statement overnight from Tigray’s pre-war government hailed the TDF advances and said Mekele was fully under its control.
“The government and army of Tigray will carry out all the tasks necessary to ensure the survival and security of our people,” the statement said.
“The government of Tigray calls upon our people and army of Tigray to intensify their struggle until our enemies completely leave Tigray.”
Though the TDF did not hold any major cities and towns for months, its leaders have repeatedly boasted that they were regrouping in remote rural areas.
Last week the TDF launched a major offensive that coincided with Ethiopia’s highly anticipated national elections, which unfolded in much of the country though not in Tigray.
The results of the polls have yet to be announced, but they are widely expected to deliver Abiy a formal mandate.
The brutal war in Tigray has been marked by massacres, widespread sexual violence and other abuses.
The United Nations has also warned that the conflict has pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine.
In announcing its cease-fire, the federal government said it would last until the end of the current “farming season” and was intended to facilitate agricultural production and aid distribution while allowing rebel fighters “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 was “hopeful that an effective cessation of hostilities will take place.”
He called recent events in Tigray “extremely worrisome” saying they “demonstrate, once again, that there is no military solution to the crisis.”
Britain, the United States and Ireland have called for an emergency UN Security Council public meeting, which could happen on Friday, diplomatic sources said.
The Security Council has failed to hold a public session on Tigray since the war erupted, with many African countries, China, Russia and other nations deeming the crisis an internal Ethiopian affair.
Throughout the fighting, Abiy has benefited from the military backing of soldiers from neighboring Eritrea and Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south.
These forces’ involvement “will complicate a blanket application of a temporary cease-fire, which so far appears to be a mostly unilateral move by the federal government,” said Connor Vasey, analyst with the risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
Should discussions on a possible political settlement actually go ahead, they “are likely to be difficult and protracted,” Vasey said.