Ethiopia disengages from Tigray with ‘unilateral ceasefire’ declaration

A unilateral ceasefire has been declared in the war-torn Tigray region as rebel fighters seize control of Mekelle, the region's capital. 

In a statement delivered by state media Ethiopia’s government declared an immediate “unilateral ceasefire” on Monday in the Tigray region after eight months of deadly conflict. Tigray fighters moved into the city amidst jubilation as government forces retreated. It is believed hundreds of thousands of people in the region are suffering one of the worst famine crisis ever. The federal Tigray interim administration fled the regional capital Mekele and called for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds. 

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The ceasefire has destabilized Ethiopia with potential ramifications that would spill into the rest of the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is currently awaiting the results of the national elections which were part of the critical reforms championed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed when he rose to power and earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. 

In a statement, Antonio Guterres, The Secretary-General of the UN revealed he had spoken with the Prime Minister. He also expressed optimism in the “effective cessation of hostilities”

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Tigray fighters derive their loyalty to the former regional ruling party that dominated Ethiopia’s government for several years before being sidelined by the new administration. Residents in Mekele cheered the return of Tigray’s forces since Ethiopia took the city in late November when Abiy declared victory. 

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Tigray fighters took control of the airport and other key strategic positions around Mekele. They broadcast a message to the city residents to stop the celebrations and head home. AP reports an incident where retreating Ethiopian soldiers shot at Mekele University students killing two and wounding three. 

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Ethiopia said the ceasefire with Tigray will last till the end of the planting season - around September. All federal and regional authorities have been ordered to respect the ceasefire. In recent days Tigray region has experienced some of the fiercest fighting in the conflict. A lot of international pressure has been lumped on Ethiopia culminating in the death of three Doctors Without Borders staffers and over 60 people when a military airstrike took place in a busy market area. Over 2 million people are reportedly displaced with over 5 million in urgent need of food aid.  

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The United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) castigated the Ethiopian military for entering its Mekele office and dismantling satellite communications equipment. UNICEF described the act as a violation of the immunity enjoyed by the world body. In the past week, UNICEF warned that 33,000 severely malnourished children were facing “imminent risk of death” as little aid reached Tigray’s people.