Tigrayan rebels vowed to hunt down Ethiopian and Eritrean troops on the run around the regional capital, Mekelle, on Wednesday after taking full control of the city in a sharp reversal of eight months of war.
People in Mekelle said the incoming Tigrayan fighters were greeted with cheers. There were similar scenes on video footage from the northern town of Shire, where residents said government-allied Eritrean forces pulled out and Tigrayan forces re-entered.
The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire on Monday after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) territorial gains.
However, Getachew Reda, a TPLF spokesman, said the ceasefire was a “joke” and hundreds had been killed in fighting near the border with the Afar region, information that could not be independently verified.
Getachew told Al Jazeera’s Catherine Wambua on Wednesday that rebel forces would not stop fighting until the entire region was liberated.
“Getachew says even if [Tigray] forces are making good gains and pushing back opposing forces, the Ethiopian military – backed by Eritrean forces and Amhara fighters – still control large swaths of Tigrayan territory,” Wambua said.
“The aim of the Tigrayan forces is to push back to make sure that every inch of Tigray is in their control.”
Lieutenant-General Bacha Debele told reporters on Wednesday the Ethiopian army left Mekelle because it needs to prepare for threats other than the rebels.
“The TPLF is no more a threat but we’ve got [a] more national threat that we need to shift our attention to,” Debele said, without elaborating.
The Ethiopian army could re-enter Mekelle within weeks if needed, the government said.
“Ethiopia is exposed to an attack from outsiders” because of the conflict, Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s task force for Tigray, told reporters in an apparent reference to Sudan.
Redwan described the ceasefire as a political decision “made for humanitarian cause”. “If it is required, we can easily enter to Mekelle and we can enter in less than three weeks,” he said.