Ethiopian rebel group, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has said it is moving away from regions it captured from neighbouring territories in what may or may not lead to ceasefire.
In a letter addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, TPLF chairman, Dr Debretsion GebreMichael, said besides their withdrawal, the group was seeking for the establishment of a no-fly zone for “hostile flights of aircrafts and drones” flying over Tigray, but with the exemption of humanitarian and civilian deliveries.
The move, ahead of a crucial meeting of the UN Security Council on Ethiopia on Monday night, was seen as an effort to open up aid channels for hungry families, the sick and students, all of whose search for food, medicine and education were dashed in the 13-month long conflict that has left thousands dead and others displaced.
Discuss humanitarian crisis
The Council was expected to meet late on Monday under ‘Any other business’, traditionally allocated to emergency situations deemed threatening to world peace and security. Council members France, Estonia, Ireland, Norway, UK and US — all of who have been critical of Ethiopia’s handling of the Tigray crisis — had called for the meeting ostensibly to discuss the humanitarian crisis.
Last week, a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that nearly 10 million people in Tigray and neighbouring regions need humanitarian assistance. There are other shortages such as fuel and essential commodities in the region that has been mostly under a blockade during the year-long war.
But the Council was unlikely to move Ethiopia’s hands on the TPLF.
Since November last year when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched an offensive on the TPLF, he has considered them a criminal clique, which is why the announcement of withdrawing from the regions they captured was being taken with a pinch of salt. It has come as Prime Minister Abiy’s forces launched an aggressive aerial shelling of TPLF bases using drones supplied by Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
In the last three weeks, Abiy has claimed victory in Lalibela, Dessie and Kombolcha in Amhara region, considered links between Addis Ababa and the northern city of Makelle. The offensive halted and reversed the march towards the capital by the TPLF.
Last week, Abiy also reclaimed Kobo and Weldiya, even as the African Union’s special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo tried to have the parties hold dialogue.
Was this TPLF’s sign of surrender? The group’s president claimed it was a strategic shift, and a call for the world to help their starving civilians.
The rebel group leader also wants arms embargoes imposed on Ethiopia and Eritrea whom it accuses of escalating the violence in the country that has led to thousands of deaths and displacements of at least two millions others across Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions.
In the letter, TPLF has accused the Ethiopian government of overseeing targeted drone strikes against Tigrayans and other innocent civilians with the latter blaming the rebel group for the escalating tensions in the country.
The rebel group says it hopes that its “bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace” for the country.
“We are trusting that you and the Security Council will ensure that every measure is utilised to end the illegal occupation and annexation of parts of Tigray and the violations against the people who are under that regime of occupation,” the letter dated December 19 said.
UN estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 Tigarayans, journalists and UN staff have been detained in unknown locations and incommunicado in the country which amount to acts of enforced disappearances.
The UN Human Rights Council on Friday voted to have an International Commission of Human Rights experts on Ethiopia established to look into alleged human rights violations committed by all parties in relation to the conflict in Tigray.
The move prompted by a request by the European Union has been objected by the Ethiopian government which accused the UN body of being an instrument of political pressure and vowed not to cooperate.