Tigray rebels announce troop deployment in northern Ethiopia

AFP , Tuesday 4 Oct 2022

Authorities in Ethiopia's rebel-held Tigray region said they had withdrawn fighters from occupied parts of a neighbouring region to counter a major offensive unfolding to the north.

Ethiopia Tigray rebels
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies claims to show vehicles lined up near the town of Sheraro, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. AP


Pro-government forces and rebels led by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) resumed fighting in late August after a five-month truce, dimming hopes of peacefully settling nearly two years of war.

The deepening conflict has raised international alarm, with the United States on Monday announcing that its special envoy to the region would be making his second visit to Ethiopia in as many months to seek a halt to the fighting.

The latest upsurge has drawn Eritrean troops back onto the battlefield in support of Ethiopia's federal and regional forces, which are fighting the TPLF on multiple fronts in the country's north.

Tigrayan authorities said late Sunday that a redeployment of fighters from occupied parts of the Amhara region to the south of Tigray was necessary to counter intensifying combat to the north.

"So because of this, on the southern front, we have withdrawn from the areas of Amhara region we entered," Tigray's regional authorities said in a statement.

The withdrawal had been under way for three days and could be reversed if the front came under attack again, they added.

An Amhara government official in that part of the region told AFP that TPLF rebels had withdrawn from some towns, and reported some localised fighting.

AFP was not able to independently verify claims of battlefield gains or troop movements.

Access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted and Tigray has been under a communications blackout for more than a year.

The US State Department on Monday said in a statement that Mike Hammer, its special envoy to the Horn of Africa, would travel to Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia this month.

The visit, which will include meetings with Ethiopian government and African Union officials, is part of US efforts "to achieve an immediate cessation of hostilities in northern Ethiopia and support the launch of African Union-led peace talks."

Diplomatic efforts

The announcement came on the heels of a 11-day trip by Hammer to Ethiopia last month as diplomats frantically try to get the warring sides to the negotiating table.

Tigrayan authorities said last month they were ready to participate in talks mediated by the African Union, removing an obstacle to negotiations with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government in Addis Ababa.

But fighting has only escalated in the weeks since, with Hammer telling reporters last month that the presence of Eritrean troops only served to "inflame an already tragic situation".

The involvement of Eritrea has provoked strong condemnation from Western nations pushing for a peaceful resolution to the war in Africa's second-most populous country.

Eritrean troops supported Ethiopian forces in the early stages of the war, which erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent soldiers into Tigray to unseat the TPLF.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopia's ruling coalition for decades before Abiy took power in 2018, and is a historic enemy of Eritrea and its iron-fisted ruler Isaias Afwerki.

In September, authorities in the closed-off nation issued a general call for mobilisation of its armed forces.

The war has claimed untold lives and spurred a humanitarian crisis, and all sides to the conflict have been accused of grave abuses against civilians.

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