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TPLF Claims Withdrawal to Tigray From Occupied Areas Amid Ethiopian Government Counteroffensive

© AP Photo / Gemunu AmarasingheAngesom Mezgebo, wears a T shirt and a pendent, with images of map of Tigray during a protest march to mark a year since Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's administration started fighting against the Tigray, the northernmost region in Ethiopia,Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 in Washington.
Angesom Mezgebo, wears a T shirt and a pendent, with images of map of Tigray during a protest march to mark a year since Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's administration started fighting against the Tigray, the northernmost region in Ethiopia,Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 in Washington. - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.12.2021
Amid a powerful counteroffensive by the Ethiopian government, the leader of Tigray State has appealed to the United Nations for help, announcing on Monday that Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces had been pulled back to Tigray. The pullout is just one peace condition laid out by Addis prior to the TPLF's invasion of Amhara and Afar.
“I have ordered those units of the Tigray Army that are outside the borders of Tigray to withdraw to the borders of Tigray with immediate effect,” Debretsion Gebremichael, president of Tigray and head of the TPLF, said in a Monday letter to the United Nations Security Council.
“We trust that our bold act of withdrawal will be a decisive opening for peace,” he said.
Debretsion further added: “Our forces are intact and undefeated on the ground. We are confident in their capability, spirit and steadfastness.”
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda added that “by doing so, we believe we have taken away whatever excuse the international community [has used] to explain its feet-dragging when it comes to putting pressure” on the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Earlier this month, Getachew also claimed the TPLF had withdrawn from Dessie, Kombolcha, and several other towns, denying they had been forced out and that “things are going according to our plan.”
However, the story on the ground has been far different. According to reports in Ethiopian media, a new offensive late last week swept across the narrow supply line extending southward out of Tigray along Highway 2 that was maintaining the TPLF’s southern advance toward the capital of Addis Ababa. Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) units captured the city of Kobo, just 8 miles from the Amhara-Tigray border, cutting off the northern retreat of TPLF forces from further south and isolating the strategic town of Woldia, which fell to the ENDF on Friday.
On Sunday, the day before Debretsion’s letter was sent, a Tigrinya-language press release announced the withdrawal and called on all able-bodied Tigrayans of age to be ready to take up arms and “defend their region, raising further questions about the TPLF’s “plan.” The group, designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian legislature, has previously been accused of using food aid as a tool for coercing Tigrayan families into conscripting their sons.
At its maximum southern extent in late November, the TPLF occupied Debre Sina, just 190 kilometers from Addis, before Abiy declared a state of emergency and took over direct control of ENDF operations from the front for a short period of time.
According to Borkena, TPLF units isolated by the rapid ENDF advance have remained dangerous, occupying numerous towns in which they are surrounded, and the ENDF is still engaged in operations to eliminate those pockets, which include Sekota and Lalibela, the latter of which had previously been recaptured by the ENDF.

US Partner Refused Peace to March on Addis

For decades, the TPLF was a close US partner in the War on Terror and its operations in Africa, until it lost power in 2018 amid massive protests and the nomination of Abiy, an Oromo, to lead the government by other members of the TPLF’s ruling coalition. Political reforms by Abiy that sought to diminish the group’s domination of Ethiopian politics helped provoke the present conflict, including ending a war against Eritrea in 2018 that the TPLF had started two decades earlier.
The TPLF began the conflict on November 3, 2020, when it launched a surprise attack on ENDF forces in Tigray. The ENDF recovered and seized the capital of Mekelle, but the TPLF regrouped in the countryside and retook most of Tigray, at which time Abiy’s government issued a unilateral ceasefire and appeal for peace. However, the TPLF ignored those appeals and launched an invasion of neighboring Amhara and Afar states in July, and as Getachew recently admitted on Tigrayan television, their southern advance on Addis Ababa was given explicit US approval.
Sputnik also reported in November that American and European diplomats have been secretly meeting with TPLF leaders, voicing their support for the group’s rapid advance and speaking of a “transition government” after the anticipated capture of Addis Ababa and the collapse of Abiy’s government.
Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told reporters last month the government’s terms for a ceasefire included the TPLF’s withdrawal from Amhara and Afar, cessation of attacks against government forces, and recognizing the legitimacy of Abiy’s government.
“In order for there to be a peaceful solution, they say it takes two to tango,” Dina said at the time.
Abiy's government has not yet formally replied to Debretsion's Monday overtures, which notably were not directed to him, but to the UN, leaving out at least one key element for peace.

TPLF Calls for Protecting Aid It’s Accused of Seizing

In the letter to the UNSC, Debretsion urged the creation of a no-fly zone over Tigray and the imposition of arms embargoes on Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as a “mechanism to ensure the immediate and verifiable cessation of all forms of hostilities,” including “the total withdrawal of all external forces” from Tigray.
Debretsion further gave his approval to the UN Human Rights Council’s probe into alleged human rights abuses in the conflict by all sides. As Sputnik reported, the probe was called for without the approval or consultation of the Ethiopian government, as is standard for such inquiries, and every African state on the council voted against the resolution or abstained from the vote.
He also proposed an air bridge or humanitarian corridor “under a demilitarized route designated for safe passage of humanitarian supplies to ensure rapid, unconditional, unfettered, and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and items essential to survival.”
The UN World Food Program (WFP) and other aid efforts have attempted to deliver supplies, including food and fuel, to as many as 9.4 million Ethiopians put in dire straits by the conflict. However, at a press conference earlier this month with Catherine Sozi, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ethiopia, Commissioner for the National Disaster Risk Management Commission of Ethiopia (NDRMC) Mitiku Kassaand denounced the TPLF’s seizure of 1,010 aid trucks and called on the UN to similarly denounce the TPLF’s use of food aid as a weapon of war in the areas of Amhara it had occupied.
The WFP temporarily suspended aid operations earlier this month in the Amhara cities of Dessie and Kombolcha in response to looting of their warehouses by TPLF forces. The group was also accused of looting hospitals in the region and the fuel depot in Kombolcha.
Despite these incidents, the US has only sanctioned the Ethiopian government and their Eritrean allies, claiming Addis had itself committed human rights abuses in Tigray and that both nations’ actions have perpetuated the conflict in Tigray. In comments on Friday in response to the UNHRC's resolution, the US State Department only condemned alleged abuses by Abiy's government, not mentioning the accusations against the TPLF.
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