Tigrayan rebels fighting the central government are withdrawing from neighbouring regions in northern Ethiopia, a step towards a possible ceasefire after 13 months of a brutal war.

The pullout of Tigray rebels raises hope for possible dialogue to silence the guns in a conflict that has killed thousands of people.
The pullout of Tigray rebels raises hope for possible dialogue to silence the guns in a conflict that has killed thousands of people. (Reuters Archive)

The United States has said that it hopes the retreat of Tigrayan rebels in Ethiopia to their northern stronghold "opens the door to broader diplomacy."

"If we do see a movement of the Tigrayan forces back into Tigray, that is something we would welcome," State Department spokesman Ned Price said after the rebel group announced its retreat. 

"It's something we'd call for, and we hope it opens the door to broader diplomacy."

The State Department was unable to confirm the withdrawal by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (or TPLF), which had advanced in recent months to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.

"We're aware of reports of Tigrayan withdrawal from some regions of northern Ethiopia."

"We have long, as you know, urged the cessation of hostilities including the return of TPLF forces to Tigray," Price said, adding that the United States also urged "a negotiated resolution to the conflict."

READ MORE: Tigray forces announce retreat from neighbouring Ethiopian regions

Over a year of brutal war 

The pullout could raise hope for possible dialogue to silence the guns in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and created a severe humanitarian crisis in the north of the Horn of Africa nation.

The conflict erupted last year between the federal government and the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018.

In June, the military withdrew from Tigray after reports of mass killings of civilians, gang rapes and blocking of aid supplies.  The government has said it has prosecuted individual soldiers although it has provided no details.

In July, Tigrayan rebels invaded Afar and Amhara regions. 

The Ethiopian military launched a counter-offensive at the end of November that pushed the Tigrayan rebels back hundreds of kilometres.

READ MORE: Ethiopian military again takes control of Lalibela from rebels

READ MORE: Tigray rebels blamed for 'mass looting' UN's Ethiopia aid

Source: TRTWorld and agencies