Inside TPLF strategy to "liberate" Tigray

A communications blackout and tight restrictions on access to Tigray have made it very difficult for aid agencies to confirm the whereabouts and safety of their staff [File: Eduardo Soteras/AFP]

MEKELLE, Ethiopia - Even after the capture of Mekelle, the regional administrative capital of the Tigray region, the Tigray People's Liberation Front [TPLF] fighters otherwise known as Tigray Defense Forces [TDF] has come with a host of strategies, aimed at "liberating the region".

TDF heightened its operations in the region, claiming to have defeated the Ethiopia National Defense Forces [ENDF], who has since retreated after seven months of horror in the region. ENDF insists the withdrawal was strategic, adding that it was purposely to allow humanitarian teams to access the region.

But the withdrawal of ENDF has been accompanied by a host of conditions for a ceasefire that was declared by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose reign has been a subject of international discussion having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

TDF said they required "ironclad guarantees that the security of our people will not be compromised by the second round of invasions, we accept a ceasefire in principle", a statement signed by the "government of Tigray," said on Sunday.

"Nevertheless, before a ceasefire agreement is formalized, the following thorny problems must be resolved," the text continues, before listing the conditions.

The statement from the TDF also called for the resumption of the activities of "the government democratically elected in Tigray with all its powers and constitutional responsibilities".

The United Nations and numerous governments have called for a ceasefire to be respected, especially to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilian populations.

In the statement, a number of thorny issues were raised which authorities in Addis Ababa ought to adhere to for the ceasefire to prevail. The TDF captured over 1000 federal troops during the war in the Tigray region.

TDF authorities are also calling for "procedures to hold [Ethiopian Prime Minister] Abiy Ahmed and [President] Isaias Aferworki accountable in direct proportion to the severity and magnitude of the damage they have inflicted on Tigray", as well as the creation by the UN of an independent investigation body to probe the "horrific crimes" carried out during the conflict. Other conditions are humanitarian, including the distribution of aid and the safe return to Tigray of displaced people.

Electricity and communications have been cut in Tigray, flights suspended and two bridges crucial for aid deliveries have been destroyed. Ethiopia has rejected charges that it plans to choke off aid to Tigray after the rebels took control of the northern region this week -- a stunning turnabout in the eight-month-old conflict.

The federal government did not respond to an AFP request for a response but it has always refused to open any dialogue with TPLF leaders, classifying the group as a terrorist organization by parliamentary decree.

In a closed-door meeting with diplomats on Friday, Ethiopian leaders said the government was prepared to hold an "inclusive dialogue to resolve the crisis in Tigray" while repeating that it will not deal with the TPLF leaders.

According to the UN, over 400,000 people have "crossed the threshold into famine" in Tigray and 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine. Most of these people are in neighboring Sudan, which is also facing an internal conflict.

Eritrea was accused of sending troops to Tigray but the contingent has since left since the declaration of ceasefire on Monday last week. Thousands of TDF fighters have seized several towns in the region, and have since threatened to pursue "our enemies" to their territories.


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