Tigrayan rebels have retaken Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray state, after Ethiopia’s government announced an immediate and unilateral ceasefire late on Monday. Reports that have made it through a government-imposed communications blackout now indicate that government forces are now in retreat throughout the state.
Residents of Mekelle took to the streets to celebrate on Monday evening as Tigrayan fighters reentered the city, after the Addis Ababa-appointed interim government of the state and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces garrison in the city withdrew from the city earlier in the day. The withdrawal of government forces followed reports that the interim state government had requested that the Ethiopian government reach a ceasefire agreement with rebel forces.
Speaking to Reuters today, Tigray People’s Liberation Front spokesman Getachew Reda said that Mekelle is now “100%” under Tigrayan control. According to him, “active engagement” in the city has ended, with Tigrayan forces continuing to pursue retreating government forces south and east of the city.
UNICEF has accused retreating Ethiopian National Defense Forces members of entering their Mekelle offices and dismantling Very Small Aperture Terminal satellite communication equipment installed there. In a statement condemning the incident, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said that the dismantling of UNICEF communications equipment “violates UN privileges and immunities and the rules of International Humanitarian Law”. The UNHCR has also said that it is “extremely worried” about the situation in Mekelle and Tigray, after it received reports that power and telephone service in the state has been interrupted.
The Ethiopian government stated on Monday that its unilateral ceasefire would last through the end of Tigray’s planting season in September. According to the announcement, the ceasefire would “enable farmers to till their land, aid groups to operate without any military movement around and engage with (TPLF) remnants who seek peace”, stressing that action to bring the leaders of the TPLF, which ran Tigray state until the start of fighting in November, to “justice” would continue.
The ceasefire declaration came after a week of continued defeats experienced by ENDF forces at the hands of Tigrayan rebels on the offensive, including the loss of an Ethiopian Air Force C-130. Despite the declaration, Tigrayan rebels have since stated that they will “intensify their struggle” until federal forces completely depart Tigray.