Rebellious Tigrayan forces are completely withdrawing from the neighbouring region of Afar in Ethiopia, a spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces told Reuters on Monday, saying he hoped it meant that desperately needed food aid could finally pour into famine-hit Tigray.
“Our forces have left all of Afar,” Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters on Monday.
Afar’s police commissioner Ahmed Harif said Tigrayan forces had withdrawn from the town of Abala but were still in three of the region’s districts.
He said the forces were also in control of the highway between Abala and Tigray’s capital Mekelle, and that he was in touch with local officials and militias who were keeping him updated.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu could not be reached for comment.
Fighting in northern Ethiopia, which began in November 2020 in the Tigray region and spilled over into Afar last year, has eased since the federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire last month, saying it would allow humanitarian aid to enter.
Tigrayan forces said they would respect the ceasefire as long as sufficient aid was delivered to their region “within reasonable time”.
Only a trickle of aid has made it into Tigray, where more than 90% of the population need food aid, since the Ethiopian military pulled out at the end of June after months of bloody clashes.
The United Nations has blamed bureaucracy and insecurity for blocking convoys and said at least 100 trucks of aid are needed to enter Tigray every day.
Only 144 trucks have made it in since the ceasefire was announced a month ago, with the latest 74 arriving on Monday, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.
It was unclear if the pull-out was negotiated with the Ethiopian government.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions across three regions in Ethiopia and into neighbouring Sudan.
The TPLF has accused Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of trying to centralise power at the expense of the regions and Abiy has accused the TPLF of trying to regain national power – accusations each side has denied.