Rebels in Ethiopia's Tigray region said Tuesday they had been provoked into launching “robust” military operations in neighbouring Afar, dampening hopes for a possible ceasefire in the country's 14-month war.
“Since yesterday morning (January 24), we have been compelled to take robust actions to neutralise the threat posed by” pro-government forces in Afar region, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) said in a statement.
“Tigray's army does not have a plan to remain in Afar for long nor does it wish to see the conflict deteriorate further,” the statement added.
The move comes one month after the TPLF announced it was withdrawing from both the Afar and Amhara regions into Tigray, where fighting broke out between the rebels and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government in November 2020.
The withdrawal had spurred hopes for concrete steps to silence the guns in a conflict that has killed thousands and created a severe humanitarian crisis with many on the brink of famine.
But in Tuesday's statement, the TPLF said Afar-based pro-government forces had intensified attacks on its positions in recent days.
Abiy's government, meanwhile, has blamed fresh hostilities on the TPLF and claimed the rebels' latest moves were “cutting off the primary artery of humanitarian aid to Tigray.”
The road from Afar's capital, Semera, to the Tigray capital Mekele is the only operational land route into Tigray, where the UN estimates hundreds of thousands are living in famine-like conditions.
Earlier Tuesday, aid workers said Mekele-bound trucks carrying 800 metric tonnes of food were stuck at a checkpoint in Afar.