Ethiopia's Tigray demands troop withdrawals before ceasefire talks

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Rebel leaders in Ethiopia's Tigray region have accepted "in principle" a ceasefire with the federal Ethiopian government but laid down strict conditions for it to be formalised.

Conditions include the full withdrawal of troops from the region of Eritrean forces along with fighters from the neighbouring Ethiopian region of Amhara, who have been supporting the Ethiopian army during the eight-month long conflict.

They also called for the restoration of their dislodged Tigray government.

The conditions were laid out in a statement signed by "The Government of Tigray" on Sunday.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional authority driven out last November by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, returned to the region's capital Mekele a week ago to cheering crowds.

Their return was followed by a unilateral declaration of a ceasefire by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government. But the TPLF spokesperson, Getachew Reda, dismissed such a move as a joke.

'Ironclad guarantees'

In Sunday's statement, released by Getachew, the TPLF said it would accept a ceasefire in principle if there were ironclad guarantees of no further invasions, but a series of other conditions would need to be met before any agreement could be formalised.

"Invading forces from Amhara and Eritrea must withdraw from Tigray and return to their pre-war territories," the statement said.

Other conditions are humanitarian, including the distribution of aid to the region, the safe return to Tigray of displaced people and full provision of essential services such as electricity, telecommunications, banking, healthcare and education.

It also demanded the immediate release of all ethnic Tigrayan political leaders and members of the national defence force who are being held in prisons around the country.

The statement said the United Nations should establish an independent body to investigate war crimes and an international entity to oversee the implementation of any ceasefire deal.

There was no immediate comment from the Prime Minister's spokesperson and the chairman of the government task force set up to coordinate the security operation in Tigray

But the federal government has refused to open any dialogue with TPLF leaders, classifying the group as a terrorist organisation by parliamentary decree.

Facing famine

The TPLF dominated the central Ethiopian government for decades before Abiy came to power in 2018. His government has been battling the TPLF since late last year after accusing it of attacking military bases in Tigray.

Thousands have been killed.

According to the UN, more than 400,000 people in Tigray "have crossed the threshold into famine" and 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine.

(with newswires)