Tigray forces pull back troops as hopes rise for durable peace in Ethiopia

Commander of Tigrayan forces says some troops will remain to counter possible ceasefire violations

A destroyed tank in a field after fighting between the Ethiopian National Defence Force and Tigray People's Liberation Front forces in Kasagita, Ethiopia. Reuters
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Hopes that a ceasefire in Tigray could hold one month after a deal was reached between Ethiopia's breakaway region and Addis Ababa grew on Sunday after reports that most Tigrayan forces had withdrawn from front-line positions.

Gen Tadesse Werede, commander-in-chief of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), said that 65 per cent of its forces had been pulled back, with some staying in case of further hostilities.

A deal between the two sides to end the bloody, two-year conflict was reached in early November and signed in South Africa after talks mediated by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, part of an African Union effort.

It allowed for vital food aid to reach Tigray-held areas, where six million people faced a government blockade. Observers hope it will lead to sustainable peace after one of the most violent conflicts in recent years. Neither side has disclosed casualties but researchers at Ghent University in Belgium said earlier this year that the toll on all sides could be as high as 600,000, mostly civilians.

A follow-up agreement on disarmament of TPLF fighters, humanitarian access guarantees and entry of the Ethiopian military into the Tigrayan capital of Mekele was signed on November 12 in Kenya.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he hoped to implement the ceasefire “honestly” while the Tigrayans would commit to disarmament and Addis Ababa would pull back federal government forces.

A deal to restore basic services in Tigray has yet to be implemented, however, and the region remains cut off from internet services and banking.

Gen Wareda said the TPLF was still maintaining fighters in some locations “where there is a presence of anti-peace forces”. He did not name the locations.

“Our forces are still on the ground in those places due to the problems they [anti-peace forces] are creating for our people. But we have even reduced numbers of our forces in those places.”

On Thursday, the federal government said a joint committee mandated to draw a detailed plan for disarmament of the TPLF had begun its work and would finalise the plan in a few days.

Even with the humanitarian access guarantees reached in the truce, however, the World Health Organisation said on Friday it still does not have unfettered access to Tigray.

Residents and aid workers say Ethiopia's Eritrean allies are also looting towns, arresting and killing civilians and relocating thousands of people from a disputed part of Tigray despite the peace pact.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 8:01 AM