The forces of the dissident authorities of Tigray gained ground on Tuesday, June 29, the day after the capture of the regional capital, Mekele, calling for the expulsion of the “Enemies” from this region of northern Ethiopia at war for almost eight months. The rebels continued to advance despite the announcement on Monday evening of a “Unilateral cease-fire” by the Ethiopian government after the loss of the main Tigrayan city, a major turning point in the conflict.
The United States welcomed the announcement of this truce on Tuesday with caution: this “Could be a positive step if followed by changes on the ground to end the conflict and atrocities and allow free humanitarian assistance”State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement, arguing for “An immediate, unlimited and negotiated ceasefire”.
Mekele had been under the control of the federal army since November 28, 2020, three weeks after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, launched an offensive to overthrow the authorities from the People’s Liberation Front du Tigré (TPLF). Despite this proclaimed victory, the fighting never ceased between the pro-TPLF forces, which call themselves the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), and the Ethiopian Federal Army, supported by troops from the neighboring regional authorities of the Amhara and by soldiers from Eritrea, a country bordering Tigray.
In a statement released overnight Monday to Tuesday, the former regional government called “Our people and our army to intensify their struggle until our enemies completely leave Tigray”. Telecommunications are cut in Tigray, making it difficult to verify information on troop movements. But according to a United Nations official and a security assessment note consulted by AFP, the TDF notably entered the town of Shire, north-west of Mekele.
As the day before in Mekele, the arrival of the TDF was celebrated by the inhabitants of Shire, deserted by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers and by officials of the local administration installed by Addis Ababa. “The population has taken to the streets in droves. Huge crowds gather along the main roads », can we read in the UN security note.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank believes that TDF are controlling “Now most of the region, including the big cities”. A spokesman for the rebel forces, Getachew Reda, went so far as to threaten to ” walk “ on the capitals of Eritrea and Ethiopia. “We will do whatever it takes to protect Tigray. If it is necessary to march on Asmara to protect Tigray, we will. If we have to march on Addis Ababa to protect Tigray, we will. Nothing is excluded ”, he told AFP, calling the ceasefire a “Joke”.
In the space of ten days, the pro-TPLF rebels have dramatically reversed the balance of power on the ground. Although they did not control any major city for months, their leaders had repeatedly claimed to cluster in remote rural areas. They launched their offensive on April 18, three days before the much-anticipated national elections held across much of Ethiopia. TDF ensured their progress “Mainly thanks to massive popular support and the capture of enemy weapons and equipment”, says William Davison, analyst at ICG.
The conflict in Tigray was marked by numerous acts of violence against civilians (massacres, rapes, population displacements, etc.), which aroused the indignation of the international community. Amhara forces have been accused of annexing certain areas, where a “Ethnic cleansing” took place, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In a statement, the Amhara branch of Mr. Abiy’s party said it would oppose any attempt to take back those territories.
The humanitarian situation is catastrophic. According to the UN, at least 350,000 people are in a situation of famine in Tigray – which the Ethiopian government disputes – and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday reiterated its concern about the risk of epidemics. The ceasefire announced by Addis Ababa was welcomed on Tuesday by China, France and the United Arab Emirates, as well as by the African Union (AU), which spoke of a “Humanitarian ceasefire”. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday that he had “Good hope that an effective cessation of hostilities will take place”.
The United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom have called for an emergency public meeting of the UN Security Council, which could be held on Friday. Western countries have never managed to hold a public session on Tigray, African states, China, Russia and other members of the Security Council who consider the crisis to be an internal Ethiopian affair.