Ethiopia’s government said it would block its forces from entering the Tigre region, after Tigrean rebels retreated into the region this week. Analysts say both sides are indicating that a ceasefire may open after a disastrous thirteen-month war.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Government Communications Services, Legacy Tulu, announced that the pause was to protect the Ethiopian military from further sacrifices and to avoid further accusations of atrocities.
Tulu said that the Tigreyan forces – the Tigre People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – suffered heavy losses.
He added that Ethiopian military defense forces that have recaptured parts of eastern Amhara and Afar that were occupied by the TPLF have been ordered to remain at their current locations.
The break came as Tigre forces announced in a letter to the UN Secretary General on Monday that they were pulling out of neighboring regions to pave the way for peace. The letter cited the suffering of the Tigreyan people as a major reason for their retreat after the 13-month war.
The withdrawal of the rebels and the government halting its offensive could help start negotiations to end the year-long war.
The International Crisis Group (IGC) said in a report on Thursday that both sides should use the opportunity for a ceasefire.
“This opportunity is indeed … a rare opportunity for the parties to pursue the path of dialogue,” said Murithi Mutiga, ICG’s Horn of Africa director. “It is encouraging that Tigre forces recognize that they can no longer seek to pressure Addis Ababa, but it is also encouraging that the authorities have decided not to halt their advance and move into Tigre.”
Ethiopian federal forces spent months fighting in the Tigre, then fell back under a rebel counter-offensive in June.
In July, Tigran forces pushed into neighboring Amhara and Afar regions before retreating this week.
Despite renewed hope for peace, Mutiga does not believe the two sides are likely to sit at the negotiating table.
“In the Ethiopian context, as we know it, there has historically been no housing culture,” Mutiga said. “It’s trying to win outright on the battlefield. And so, there can be a temptation to try and take advantage of each side.”
Regional media reports Federal forces launched an airstrike on a power sub-station in the Tigreyan capital Mekele on Wednesday. Reuters news agency reported that the strike caused power outages across the city.