Tigray rebels leave Ethiopia’s Afar region: TPLF spokesman


TPLF says rebels are withdrawing from neighboring region, but Afar Police Commissioner says fighters are still in some districts.

Tigray rebels have withdrawn from Ethiopia’s neighboring Afar region, a rebel spokesman said.

Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters news agency on Monday that “our troops have left all of Afar”, adding that he hoped this meant that much-needed food aid could finally arrive in Tigray.

Police commissioner in Afar, Ahmed Harif, said Tigrayan forces had withdrawn from Abala town but were still in three of the regions and controlled the highway between Abala and Tigray’s capital Mekelle.

There was no immediate comment from the Ethiopian government and it was unclear whether the withdrawal had been negotiated with Addis Ababa.

Workers clean the floor as bags of food destined for the Tigray and Afar regions pile up at a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse in Semera, the regional capital of the Afar region, in Ethiopia [File: AP Photo]

Northern Ethiopia has been ravaged by conflict since November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray after accusing the ruling TPLF of attacking federal army camps.

Thousands of people have died and millions more have been displaced from their homes as a result of fighting between forces loyal to Abiy and the TPLF and their allies.

‘A milestone’

Violence has abated since the federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire last month and said it would allow humanitarian aid.

Tigrayan forces said they would respect the ceasefire as long as sufficient aid is delivered to their region “within a reasonable amount of time”.

Ethiopian journalist Samuel Getachew told Al Jazeera that the rebels’ withdrawal would be a “milestone” in the conflict. He said the withdrawal of the Tigray rebels from Afar was a condition imposed by the government to allow the movement of humanitarian aid into the war-torn area.

“She [the rebels] need to leave [Afar] so that aid, especially from the UN, would flow,” he said.

Only a small trickle of aid has reached Tigray, where more than 90 percent of the population needs food aid, since the Ethiopian army withdrew in late June after months of bloody clashes.

The UN has blamed bureaucracy and insecurity for blocking convoys and said it takes at least 100 trucks of relief supplies every day to enter Tigray.

Only 144 trucks have made it since the ceasefire was announced a month ago, with the last 74 arriving on Monday, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.

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