Tigrayan forces fighting Ethiopia's central government have withdrawn from neighbouring regions in the country's north, a Tigrayan spokesman said on Monday. The move could be a step towards a possible ceasefire after major territorial gains by the Ethiopian military.
The 13-month war has destabilised an already fragile region, sent 60,000 refugees into Sudan, pulled Ethiopian soldiers away from war-torn Somalia and drawn in armed forces from neighbouring Eritrea.
"We have just completed the withdrawal of our forces from both Amhara and Afar regions," said Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the political party that controls most of the northern region.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Reda said the TPLF hoped the withdrawal would induce the international community to put pressure on the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea, allies in the conflict, to end military operations in Tigray.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael called for a no-fly zone for hostile aircraft over Tigray, arms embargoes on Ethiopia and Eritrea, and a UN mechanism to verify that external armed forces have left Tigray – all requests that the Ethiopian government is likely to oppose.
"We trust that our bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace," Mr Debretsion wrote in a letter to the UN outlining the TPLF's demands.
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's representative, Billene Seyoum, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Mr Debretsion's letter was being studied and he had no immediate comment beyond that.
"We would look positively at any efforts that can bring the fighting downwards and ultimately to bring it to a full halt ... We'll study this (letter) and see ... what can be done with that," he said.
The US State Department is aware of the reports of Tigrayan withdrawal, said spokesman Ned Price.
"If we do see a movement of Tigrayan forces back into Tigray that is something we would welcome. It's something we've called for and we hope it opens the door to broader diplomacy," he said.
Thousands of civilians have been killed as a result of the conflict. About 400,000 are facing famine in Tigray and 9.4 million people need food aid across northern Ethiopia.