Tigrayan forces on Monday announced they were withdrawing from several areas of northern Ethiopia and retreating to Tigray, marking a new turning point in the 13-month war which has left thousands of people dead.
“We decided to withdraw from these areas to Tigray. We want to open the door to humanitarian aid,” Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front, told AFP, announcing a pullout from the regions of Amhara and Afar.
The decision was made a few weeks ago, Getachew said, adding that TPLF fighters were carrying out “phase by phase withdrawals” from various towns, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lalibela, which has changed hands several times during the conflict.
The move marks a major reversal by the rebels, who previously dismissed the government's insistence on their withdrawal from Afar and Amhara as “an absolute non-starter” for talks to begin.
The conflict between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the TPLF has triggered a severe humanitarian crisis and prompted the UN's top rights body to order an international probe into alleged abuses.
The war broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into Ethiopia's northernmost region of Tigray to topple the TPLF, accusing them of attacking army camps.
He vowed a swift victory but the Tigrayans mounted a shock comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June before advancing into neighboring Afar and Amhara.
The fighting has displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates, with reports of massacres and mass rapes by both sides.
On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send international investigators to Africa's second most populous nation amid warnings of looming generalized violence, in a move slammed by Addis Ababa.
Diplomatic efforts led by the African Union to try to reach a ceasefire have failed to achieve any visible breakthrough.