Rebellious Tigrayan forces are evacuating fully from Ethiopia’s Afar region, a spokesperson for the Tigrayan army told Reuters on Monday, expressing hope that this would allow badly needed food aid to reach famine-stricken Tigray.
Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters on Monday that “our forces have fled all of Afar.”
Reuters was unable to independently verify Getachew’s statement.
Tigrayan forces had departed from the town of Abala, but were still present in three of the region’s districts, according to Afar’s police commissioner Ahmed Harif.
He added that the forces also controlled the highway between Abala and Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, and that he was in contact with local officials and militias who were keeping watch 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. (Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Rosalba O’Brien)