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Marking a dramatic development in the nearly eight-month-old conflict, the interim government of Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region has fled their positions as rebels seized the local capital.
Getachew Reda, the spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters by satellite phone: “The capital of Tigray, Mekelle, is under our control."
After attacks on government military bases, federal troops invaded Tigray in November to depose the regional ruling party. The TPLF was ousted six weeks later and the conflict has led to a grinding guerrilla warfare, triggering a humanitarian crisis that the UN has said has left 350,000 people on the brink of famine.
Coinciding with Ethiopia’s highly anticipated national elections, the rebels launched an offensive last week. An interim official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday that the interim local government chose to abandon their posts in Mekelle as rebel fighters closed in “on every side."
“Everybody has left. The last ones left in the afternoon. The region doesn’t have a government,” said the official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
“The interim officials left this morning,” said an international humanitarian official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several witnesses said federal soldiers and police were also fleeing Mekelle, and the humanitarian official said celebratory gunfire could be heard early on Monday evening.
Ethiopia declared a unilateral ceasefire after nearly 8 months of conflict, state media reported.
It comes hours after after anti-govt forces reportedly entered Tigray’s capital, causing govt officials to flee.
“It looks like from the way the community is reacting that … perhaps the troops have retreated from here,” the official said.
The desk of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and shortly afterwards, Ethiopia’s government declared an immediate, unilateral ceasefire in the region.
Adding that efforts to bring Tigray’s former leaders to justice continued, Ethiopia’s statement said that the ceasefire “will enable farmers to till their land, aid groups to operate without any military movement around and engage with remnants (of Tigray’s former ruling party) who seek peace."
Ethiopia said the ceasefire would last until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray, which ends in September, and the government ordered all federal and regional authorities to follow the ceasefire.