The Ethiopian government on Wednesday warned it will cancel ceasefire deal if fighters loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front violate truce.
Redwan Hussein, the Spokesman of the Tigray Emergency Taskforce, said the Ethiopian National Defence Forces pulled out of Makelle, the capital of the restive northern region, to avoid civilian casualties and allow humanitarian access.
But he and Lt-Gen Bacha Debele, spokesman for the military, indicated they could cancel the decision and return to pursue TPLF fighters.
“The ceasefire considered the law enforcement operation, survival of the nation, concerns of the people of Tigray and the international community,” Redwan told the media, referring to the November 4, 2020 decision to launch attacks on the TPLF, once a ruling party in Ethiopia but now seen as a terrorist group.
According to Ethiopia, the initial targets of the operation such as destroying enemy ammunition, freeing captured troops and weakening the TPLF had been achieved. And although Reda did not indicate how many captured soldiers had been freed, he said the ceasefire was also meant to reduce the financial costs of the war, which he argued had reached Birr 100 billion ($2.3 billion).
“TPLF is no longer an existential threat to the wellbeing of the nation,” Redwan said.
Lt-Gen Bacha indicated Makelle was no longer the “centre of gravity” that could threaten the Ethiopian government, suggesting they will focus on other issues. But he did warn the troops could return if TPLF attacked their forces or supporting Amhara region, or Eritrea.
“The army is ready to respond accordingly if unduly provoked by attacks that compromise the spirit of the ceasefire,” he said.
On Monday, Ethiopia issued a unilateral decision for a ceasefire, saying it was doing so to allow humanitarian access, allow farmers to till their land and avoid further civilian casualties.
In the wake of the truce, however, the TPLF have claimed victory, saying Ethiopian forces and Eritrean troops have been supporting Ethiopia against TPLF were fleeing from defeat. Gatachew Reda, spokesman for the TPLF said the Ethiopian forces had left key bases in Tigray after suffering losses.
“Our forces are making more and more gains. With thousands more killed the last two days, the enemy camp is in total disarray. Four enemy divisions are totally destroyed and heavy artillery pieces and numerous equipment captured,” Getachew tweeted on Monday, taunting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
“With his most functional divisions totally destroyed and in captivity, the naked emperor has little chance to maneuver militarily, politically and diplomatically. Abiy has essentially lost the war!”
On Tuesday, they took over Shire, a strategic town near the border with Eritrea, after Eritrean forces left the site and the entire Tigray region.
TPLF forces also took control of the historic and major tourist destination city of Axum.
This is the city where hundreds of unarmed civilians had been systematically massacred by Eritrean troops mainly over two days during the early days if the conflict.
According to an Amnesty International report, on 28-29 November 2020, Eritrean troops carried out mass killings by opening fire in the streets of Axum and by conducting house-to-house raids.
Amnesty in its report, made public in February said that the mass killings in Axum may amount to a crime against humanity.
On Wednesday, the US government, one of the international entities that have been demanding ceasefire, said it will only be useful if people on the ground felt the peace.
“A unilateral ceasefire in the Tigray region could be a positive step,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the State Department.
“We call on all parties to commit to an immediate, negotiated and indefinite ceasefire; ensure unhindered humanitarian access; and for Eritrean forces to withdraw immediately.”