Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: Rebel resurgence raises questions for Abiy Ahmed

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The rebel capture of Tigray’s capital city Mekelle is a significant milestone in the eight-month conflict in northern Ethiopia, which has killed thousands of people and left millions in desperate need of food and other assistance. Will it be a turning point in the war?

The Ethiopian government pulled out its troops after months of fighting, sparking celebrations on the streets.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed initially said the withdrawal was a strategic move because the city was no longer “the centre of gravity for conflicts”, but he later confirmed it was to avoid further casualties.

“We’ve seen a very significant shift in the war,” says Will Davison, senior analyst for Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group.

“It signals that either the federal government was unable to hold onto Mekelle, or it realised it is in its best interest to withdraw from Tigray. That was in light of significant battlefield gains” by rebel forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

After withdrawing, the Ethiopian government unilaterally declared a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Tigray, saying a pause in hostilities was needed to allow farming activity to take place and for aid to be delivered.But since then, TPLF forces have continued fighting, seizing more territory including the town of Shire.

The Tigrayan rebels now appear to have the upper hand in this long-running conflict. How this will play out remains to be seen.

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