Ethiopia Declares ‘Indefinite Humanitarian Truce’

(FILES) Tigrayan rebels agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” on February 25, 2022, a new turning point in the nearly 17-month war in northern Ethiopia following the government’s announcement of an indefinite humanitarian truce a day earlier.
 (Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP)

 

 

Ethiopia’s government on Thursday declared “an indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately”, saying it hoped to help hasten the delivery of emergency aid into the Tigray region, where hundreds of thousands face starvation.

Since war broke out in northern Ethiopia in November 2020, thousands have died, and many more have been forced to flee their homes as the conflict has expanded from Tigray to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government “is committed to exert maximum effort to facilitate the free flow of emergency humanitarian aid into the Tigray region,” it said in a statement.

“To optimise the success of the humanitarian truce, the government calls upon the insurgents in Tigray to desist from all acts of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have occupied in neighbouring regions,” it said.

“The government of Ethiopia hopes that this truce will substantially improve the humanitarian situation on the ground and pave the way for the resolution of the conflict in the northern Ethiopia without further bloodshed.”

The conflict erupted when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, saying the move came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

Fighting has dragged on for over a year, triggering a humanitarian crisis, as accounts have emerged of mass rapes and massacres, with both sides accused of human rights violations.

More than 400,000 people have been displaced in Tigray, according to the UN.

The region has also been subject to what the UN says is a de facto blockade.

The United States has accused Abiy’s government of preventing aid from reaching those in need, while the authorities in turn have blamed the rebels for the obstruction.

Nearly 40 percent of the people in Tigray, a region of six million people, face “an extreme lack of food”, the UN said in January, with fuel shortages forcing aid workers to deliver medicines and other crucial supplies by foot.

There was no immediate reaction from the TPLF to the government’s announcement.

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 22, 2020 A damaged tank stands abandoned on a road near Humera, Ethiopia.  (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

– ‘Welcome news’ –
Western nations have been urging both sides to agree to a ceasefire, with the United States, the UK and Canada hailing the truce declaration.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States “urges all parties to build on this announcement to advance a negotiated and sustainable ceasefire, including necessary security arrangements.”

Diplomats led by Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, have been trying for months to broker peace talks, with little evident progress so far.

Analysts said the truce was an important step but urged the government to follow up the announcement with action and ease humanitarian access to Tigray.

“The unconditional and unrestricted delivery of aid could also help create enough trust to pave the way for ceasefire talks and, eventually, dialogue,” said William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia.

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 28, 2021 People celebrate the arrival of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters on a street in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia.  (Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP)

 

– ‘Ground to a halt’ –
More than nine million people need food aid across Afar, Amhara and Tigray, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.

But humanitarian organisations have been forced to increasingly curtail activities because of fuel and supply shortages.

“WFP operations in the Tigray region have ground to a halt, with only emergency fuel stocks and less than one percent of the required food stocks remaining,” the agency said this week.

A TPLF push into Afar has worsened the situation, driving up the need for emergency aid in the region.

The road from Afar’s capital, Semera, to Tigray’s capital Mekele is the only operational land route into Tigray, where the UN estimates hundreds of thousands are living in famine-like conditions.

The government previously declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in Tigray in June last year, after the TPLF mounted a shock comeback and retook the region from federal forces.

But fighting intensified in the second half of 2021, with the rebels at one point claiming to be within 200 kilometres (125 miles) of the capital Addis Ababa, before reaching a stalemate.

Ethiopia Declares ‘Indefinite Humanitarian Truce’

In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

Ethiopia’s government on Thursday declared “an indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately”, saying it hoped to help hasten delivery of emergency aid into the Tigray region, where hundreds of thousands face starvation.

Since war broke out in northern Ethiopia in November 2020, thousands have died, and many more have been forced to flee their homes as the conflict has expanded from Tigray to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government “is committed to exert maximum effort to facilitate the free flow of emergency humanitarian aid into the Tigray region,” it said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Burkina Attacks Kill 24 Troops

“To optimise the success of the humanitarian truce, the government calls upon the insurgents in Tigray to desist from all acts of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have occupied in neighbouring regions,” it said.

“The government of Ethiopia hopes that this truce will substantially improve the humanitarian situation on the ground and pave the way for the resolution of the conflict in the northern Ethiopia without further bloodshed.”

The conflict erupted when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, saying the move came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

Fighting has dragged on for over a year, triggering a humanitarian crisis, as accounts have emerged of mass rapes and massacres, with both sides accused of human rights violations.

Tigray itself has been subject to what the UN says is a de-facto blockade.

The United States has accused Abiy’s government of preventing aid from reaching those in need, while the authorities in turn have blamed the rebels for the obstruction.

Nearly 40 percent of the people in Tigray, a region of six million people, face “an extreme lack of food”, the UN said in January.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organisations have been forced to increasingly curtail their activities because of fuel and supply shortages.

The government previously declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in Tigray in June last year, after the TPLF retook the region from federal forces. But fighting intensified in the second half of 2021 before reaching a stalemate.

AFP

Nearly 40% Of Tigrayans Face ‘Extreme Lack Of Food’ – UN

Ethiopians from the Tigrayan region living in South Africa hold placards while they protest outside the US Embassy in Pretoria on January 26, 2022. They are demanding for the withdrawal of Ethiopian, Ahmara and Eritrean forces from Tigray, to impose a no-fly zone over Tigray and to ensure the deployment of independent international investigations into allegations of war crimes against humanity committed in Tigray.

 

Nearly 40 per cent of people in Ethiopia’s Tigray are suffering “an extreme lack of food” in the face of an extended de-facto blockade of the war-hit region, a UN agency said Friday.

The dire assessment published by the World Food Programme (WFP) comes as humanitarian groups are forced to increasingly curtail activities because of fuel and supply shortages, with aid having to be delivered by foot.

Fresh fighting in northern Ethiopia, which has been gripped by deadly conflict for almost 15 months, is also limiting avenues for getting in aid.

The data was included in what the WFP described as the first reliable food security assessment conducted since a UN report more than six months ago, which estimated that hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray faced “famine-like conditions.”

The new assessment found 4.6 million people in Tigray — or 83 per cent of the population — were food-insecure, two million of them “severely” so.

“Families are exhausting all means to feed themselves, with three-quarters of the population using extreme coping strategies to survive,” WFP said in a statement.

“Diets are increasingly impoverished as food items become unavailable and families rely almost exclusively on cereals while limiting portion sizes and the number of meals they eat each day to make whatever food is available stretch further,” it added.

WFP also sounded the alarm about rising hunger in neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, which have been hit hard by fighting in recent months.

“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines,” said WFP’s East Africa director, Michael Dunford.

“But if hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger,” Dunford said.

Renewed Fighting

Fighting broke out in Tigray in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, saying the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.

After initially losing control of Tigray’s cities and towns, the TPLF regrouped and retook the region in June, then launched offensives into Afar and Amhara.

In November 2021 the rebels claimed to be within roughly 200 kilometres (125 miles) of the capital Addis Ababa, prompting hasty evacuations as countries including the US and France urged their citizens to leave.

The government launched a counter-offensive, however, retaking lost territory in Amhara and Afar.

This week the TPLF said it had begun “robust” military operations in Afar, describing the move as a response to attacks by pro-government forces on its positions.

Delivering Aid on Foot

Tigray itself has for months been subject to what the UN says is a de-facto blockade.

Washington accuses Abiy’s government of blocking aid, while Addis Ababa blames rebel incursions.

Earlier Friday the UN’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA said all international aid groups in the region were completely out of fuel and had been reduced to delivering assistance to malnourished civilians on foot.

Local groups were also struggling to reach people in need because of fuel and cash shortages, it said.

Malnutrition continues to soar, it said, with 4.2 per cent of screened children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition during the latest week for which data is available — “a seriously alarming level”.

Last week, the UN said food distribution in Tigray had reached an all-time low.

Tigray’s pre-war government said this week it had recorded 369 deaths of children under five that it attributed to the blockade, up from nearly 200 in November.

The figure could not be independently verified.

Fuel Runs Out For Aid Groups In Ethiopia’s War-Hit Tigray

A fuel nozzle

 

Foreign aid groups operating in Ethiopia’s war-battered Tigray region are out of fuel and have been forced to deliver assistance to malnourished civilians on foot, the UN said Friday.

“All international NGOs operating in Tigray reported on 24 January that they have depleted their fuel stock with their staff delivering the little remaining humanitarian supplies and services on foot, where possible,” the UN’s humanitarian coordination office said in an update on the situation in northern Ethiopia, where war has raged for nearly 15 months.

Local groups are also struggling to reach people in need because of fuel and cash shortages, the UN said.

Last week, it said food distribution in Tigray had reached an all-time low.

Fighting in the neighbouring Afar region has impeded fresh deliveries along the only operational road route into Tigray, which has not received an aid convoy since December 14.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group announced this week it had launched “robust” military operations in Afar, describing the move as a response to attacks by pro-government forces on its positions.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it did manage to operate two flights carrying medical supplies into Mekele this week.

But a TPLF spokesman said the effort was “a far cry from the massive intervention required in the face of the crisis that Tigray is currently facing”.

Fighting broke out in Tigray in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to topple the TPLF, the region’s former ruling party, saying the move came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.

The region of six million people has been subject to what the UN describes as a de facto blockade for months.

Washington accuses Abiy’s government of blocking aid, while Addis Ababa blames rebel incursions.

– Malnutrition ‘alarming’ –
Last year the UN said hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray faced what it termed “famine-like conditions”.

Malnutrition continues to soar, the UN said Friday, with 4.2 percent of screened children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition during the latest week for which data is available — “a seriously alarming level”.

Tigray’s pre-war government said this week it had recorded 369 deaths of children under five that it attributed to the blockade, up from nearly 200 in November.

That figure could not be independently verified.

“In the absence of intervention by the international community, millions of Tigrayans will continue to face the risk of death due to hunger and lack of critical medical supplies,” Dr Hagos Godefay, head of Tigray’s pre-war health bureau, said in a report published Wednesday by the Ethiopia Insight website.

Tigray Airstrikes: At Least 108 Civilians Killed This Month – UN

(FILE) People walk about at a camp for Ethiopian refugees of the Qemant ethnic group in the village of Basinga in Basunda district of Sudan’s eastern Gedaref region on August 10, 2021. ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP

 

At least 108 civilians have been killed since New Year’s in a series of airstrikes in the war-torn northern Tigray region of Ethiopia, the United Nations said Friday.

The UN also warned of a looming humanitarian disaster in the region, with its food distribution operations on the verge of grinding to a halt.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter: “My appeal to the parties: stop the fighting in all its forms. All people who need humanitarian aid must receive it as quickly as possible. It’s time to start dialogue and reconciliation.”

The UN human rights office urged the Ethiopian authorities to ensure the protection of civilians, saying disproportionate attacks hitting non-military targets could amount to war crimes.

READ ALSO: Brazil Begins Vaccinating Children Despite President’s Objection

Northern Ethiopia has been beset by conflict since November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacks on federal army camps.

“We are alarmed by the multiple, deeply disturbing reports we continue to receive of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects resulting from airstrikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region,” rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.

“At least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed and 75 others injured since the year began, as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force.”

She detailed a series of airstrikes, including the January 7 attack on the Dedebit camp for internally displaced persons, which left at least 56 dead and 30 others wounded, of which three later died in hospital.

On Monday, 17 civilians were reportedly killed and 21 injured after an airstrike hit a flour mill, and on Tuesday, the state-owned Technical Vocational Education and Training institute was hit, reportedly killing three men, said Throssell.

Numerous other airstrikes were reported last week, she added.

“We call on the Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with their obligations under international law,” said Throssell.

“Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes.”

Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme said its distributions were at an all-time low, with the escalation of the conflict meaning that no WFP convoy has reached the Tigrayan capital Mekele since mid-December.

“Life-saving food assistance operations in northern Ethiopia are about to grind to a halt because intense fighting in the neighbourhood that has blocked the passage of fuel and food,” WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters.

“After 14 months of conflict in northern Ethiopia, more people than ever need urgent food assistance.

“With no food, no fuel, no access, we are on the edge of a major humanitarian disaster.”

Tigray Rebels Claim Dozens Killed In Drone Strike On IDP Camp

The Tigray Region, officially the Tigray National Regional State, is the northernmost regional state in Ethiopia.
The Tigray Region, officially the Tigray National Regional State, is the northernmost regional state in Ethiopia. Google Maps

 

Tigrayan rebels claimed Saturday that dozens of people had been killed in a drone strike on a camp for civilians displaced by the brutal war in northern Ethiopia.

Reports of the attack emerged just a day after the government declared surprise pardons for a number of detained opposition leaders, including senior Tigrayan figures, in what it said was a move to foster national reconciliation.

The amnesty has been welcomed by the international community as a possible way out of 14 months of brutal fighting between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Friday’s announcement followed a dramatic shift on the battlefield, with the rebels retreating to their Tigray stronghold at the end of December in the face of a military offensive that saw government forces retake a string of strategic towns.

READ ALSO: Ethiopia Frees High-Profile Political Prisoners

Although there appeared to be a lull in fighting since, the rebels have accused the government of continuing to conduct deadly drone attacks on Tigray.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter that an attack on the camp in the northwestern town of Dedebit “has claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians so far”.

His claim could not be independently verified, with access to Tigray restricted and the region under communications blackout, and there was no immediate response to requests for comment from Ethiopian government officials.

However, a senior official at the main hospital in Tigray’s capital Mekele told AFP that the hospital in the town of Shire where the victims were taken had reported 55 people dead and 126 injured.

The EU also briefly referred to the air strike in a statement Saturday, saying it had killed and wounded many civilians.

Earlier this week the United Nations said three Eritrean refugees including two children had been killed in an air strike Wednesday on a refugee camp in Tigray.

Mixed messages

The conflict in Africa’s second most populous country has killed thousands of people and created a deep humanitarian crisis in the north, with fears it could tear apart a country where ethnic tensions are never far from the surface.

Tigray itself is under what the UN calls a de facto blockade that is preventing life-saving food and medicine from reaching its six million people, including hundreds of thousands suffering famine-like conditions.

While Friday’s amnesty statement also spoke of national dialogue, it did not say if Abiy was considering any negotiations with the TPLF, the party that dominated politics for three decades until he took power in 2018 but is now considered a terrorist group by Addis Ababa.

Abiy — a Nobel peace laureate who reportedly went to the battlefront in November to direct his troops — called for “national reconciliation” and “unity” in a message for Orthodox Christmas.

However, in another statement Saturday he lashed out at “foreign and internal enemies” and described the TPLF as “snakes”.

‘Seize the moment’

The amnesty coincided with a new peace mission to Ethiopia by US envoy Jeffrey Feltman, and was welcomed by the United Nations, the EU and the African Union, which has been spearheading efforts to end the conflict.

Among those pardoned were prominent politicians rounded up after deadly protests that erupted in mid-2020 over the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Oromo singer and activist.

They included Eskinder Nega, a veteran Amhara journalist and fierce government critic who has spent many years in prison under various administrations since 2005.

Also freed was Jawar Mohammed, a former media mogul and one-time Abiy ally, and his colleague in the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, Bekele Gerba.

In all, 239 people were killed in the 2020 bloodshed that saw Abiy — who had himself swept to power on the back of anti-government protests — wrestling to keep a lid on the simmering ethnic tensions.

It was not immediately known if the TPLF stalwarts granted amnesty — including one of its founders Sibhat Nega and former Tigray president Abay Woldu — had been released by Saturday.

The fate is also unclear of thousands of people reportedly detained in sweeps that appeared to target Tigrayans under a wartime state of emergency declared in November.

African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat described the amnesty as an “important gesture” and voiced hope it would pave the way for a “genuinely inclusive” national dialogue.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also welcomed the release of the opposition leaders and the establishment of a National Dialogue Commission as “positive steps”, but said the IDP camp strike showed the fighting was still going on.

“All parties must seize the moment to swiftly end the conflict and enter into dialogue,” he said.

 

AFP

Ethiopia’s Rebels Announce Retreat To Tigray

In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 26, 2021 A damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

Tigrayan rebels announced on Monday they had withdrawn from northern Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions and retreated to Tigray, marking a new turning point in the 13-month war which has left thousands of people dead.

“We decided to withdraw from these areas to Tigray. We want to open the door to humanitarian aid,” Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told AFP.

The decision was made a few weeks ago, Getachew said, later tweeting: “We have just completed the withdrawal of our forces from both #Amhara&#Afar regions.”

READ ALSO: Policeman Dies As Teargas, Bullets Are Fired At Protesters In DRC

The move marks a major reversal by the rebels, who previously dismissed the government’s insistence on their withdrawal from Afar and Amhara for talks to begin as “an absolute non-starter”.

But Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said Monday’s rebel announcement was a cover-up for military setbacks.

“The TPLF have sustained great losses over the past weeks and hence are claiming ‘strategic retreat’ to make up for defeat,” she told AFP.

“There are still pockets in the Amhara region in which they remain as well as other fronts they are attempting to open the conflict.”

The war between pro-Abiy forces and the TPLF has triggered a severe humanitarian crisis and last week the UN’s top rights body ordered an international probe into alleged abuses.

Since late October, the two sides have each declared major territorial advances, with the TPLF at one point claiming to be around 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa by road.

Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, headed to the front last month, according to state media, and the government has since claimed to have retaken several key towns.

Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted, making it difficult to verify battlefield claims.

Appeal to UN

The fighting has sparked alarm among the international community, as diplomatic efforts led by the African Union to broker a ceasefire failed to yield any visible breakthrough.

Getachew said TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael had written to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to inform him about the decision, with the Security Council expected to hold a closed-door meeting about Ethiopia later Monday.

Ireland’s UN envoy Geraldine Byrne Nason, who called the meeting, told reporters the TPLF pullout offered “a welcome opportunity to hopefully create political space for dialogue”.

According to copies of the letter circulating on social media, Debretsion asked the Security Council to ensure the withdrawal of Amhara forces and Eritrean troops from western Tigray.

“I can confirm that the letter is being studied,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for Guterres.

Both Amharas and Tigrayans lay claim to western Tigray, which has been occupied by Amhara forces since the war erupted, triggering large-scale displacement and US warnings of ethnic cleansing.

“We need the international community to take action,” Getachew said.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch last week accused Amhara forces of systematically detaining, torturing and starving Tigrayan civilians living in the contested region.

Humanitarian ‘siege’

Previously TPLF leaders had refused to pull out of Amhara and Afar unless the government ended what the rebels describe as a humanitarian “siege” of Tigray.

Aid workers have repeatedly complained that security and bureaucratic hurdles are impeding access to the region, where some 400,000 people are thought to be on the verge of famine.

The UN also suspended humanitarian flights from Addis Ababa to Tigray’s capital Mekele in October amid a campaign of government air strikes in the region. The flights resumed in November.

Fears of a rebel march on the capital prompted countries such as the United States, France and Britain to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, although Abiy’s government insisted the city was secure.

The war broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, accusing it of attacking army camps.

The Nobel Peace laureate vowed a swift victory but the rebels mounted a shock comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June before advancing into Afar and Amhara.

The fighting has displaced over two million people while 9.4 million need food aid, according to UN estimates, with reports of massacres and mass rapes by both sides.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send international investigators to Africa’s second most populous nation amid warnings of looming generalised violence, in a move slammed by Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia PM Abiy Returns From War Front

In this handout video grab released by the Ethiopian TV broadcast, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses the public on television on June 23, 2019, after a failed coup. HO / Ethiopian TV / AFP

 

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Wednesday that he was returning to Addis Ababa from the battlefront after pro-government forces claimed major advances in their fight against Tigrayan rebels.

The government on Monday said pro-Abiy forces had retaken the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, the latest turn in the 13-month-old war.

After the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group reported significant territorial gains as part of a march towards Addis Ababa, Abiy announced last month that he would head to the battlefront, handing over his regular duties to his deputy.

Since then, state media has broadcast images of a uniformed Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, as fighting reportedly raged on at least three fronts.

On Wednesday, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner said: “I am returning to the office as I have completed the first phase (of the conflict).”

“The struggle isn’t yet finished. We have areas that haven’t been freed. We should offer a long-lasting solution to make sure the enemy that has tested us doesn’t become a danger to Ethiopia again,” he warned in a statement published on social media.

In recent days, the government has announced the recapture of several small towns, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lalibela which is famed for its 12th-century rock-hewn churches.

The TPLF has dismissed the government’s claims, saying the rebels were making strategic withdrawals and remained undefeated.

Fears of a rebel march on Addis Ababa have prompted countries such as the United States, France, and Britain to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, although Abiy’s government says the city is secure.

READ ALSO: Ethiopia Government Claims Recapture Of Key Towns

 Ceasefire Push 

In this file photo taken on August 01, 2019, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, is leading a push to broker a ceasefire, but little progress has been reported so far.

The surging conflict has fuelled fears of a potential spillover into the fragile East African region, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta last month urging both parties to lay down their arms.

Obasanjo visited Kenya on Wednesday, Kenyatta’s office announced, saying the two men “discussed several subjects of importance to Kenya, the region and the African continent”, without offering further details.

The war erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

But the rebels mounted a shock comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by the end of June before expanding into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.

The fighting has killed thousands of people, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.

AFP

Ethiopia PM, Olympic Medalist Ready To Join Tigray War

In this handout videograb released by the Ethiopian TV broadcast, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses the public on television on June 23, 2019 after a failed coup. Ethiopia’s army chief and the president of a key region have been shot dead in a wave of violence highlighting the political instability in the country as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tries to push through reforms.
HO / Ethiopian TV / AFP

 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s vow this week to head for the front lines of his country’s brutal year-long war has boosted recruitment for the beleaguered armed forces. 

At least one prominent distance runner — marathoner and Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lelisa — has joined thousands of ordinary Ethiopians keen to follow Abiy’s lead.

World powers have voiced alarm about a military escalation that could scuttle efforts to broker a ceasefire, as rebels claim they are advancing towards the capital Addis Ababa and foreign governments tell their citizens to leave.

On Wednesday hundreds of new army recruits took part in a ceremony held in their honour in the Kolfe district of Addis Ababa.

As officials corralled sheep and oxen into trucks bound for the north, the recruits broke into patriotic songs and chants.

“I was amazed when I heard” Abiy planned to join soldiers in the field, one of the recruits, 42-year-old driver Tesfaye Sherefa, told AFP.

“When a leader leaves his chair… and his throne it is to rescue his country. His focus is not to live but to rescue this country, and I sobbed when he said ‘follow me’ and went to the front line.”

Abiy announced on Monday night his plan “to lead the defence forces” from the front, but officials and state media have not provided details on his movements since then.

The recruits in Kolfe nevertheless took his statement to heart, sporting T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Abiy in uniform and the words “We have a historic responsibility to defend the free name of Ethiopia.”

“I feel proud and I stand with him,” 25-year-old Esubalew Wale, another recruit, told AFP.

 ‘Great opportunity’ 

Ethiopia’s war erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate said the move was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had retaken most of Tigray including its capital Mekele.

Since then the TPLF has pushed into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, and this week it claimed to have seized a town just 220 kilometres (135 miles) from the capital.

Feyisa, the distance runner, told state media the rebels’ advance presented “a great opportunity” to defend the country.

The marathoner gained political prominence by raising and crossing his arms as he finished the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — a gesture of solidarity with fellow ethnic Oromos killed while protesting abuses committed during nearly three decades of TPLF rule.

In the state media interview which aired Wednesday, Feyisa said he would relish the chance to fight the TPLF himself.

“When a country is violated, there is no way I will stand by and just watch,” he said.

A separate state media report quoted Ethiopia’s most famous distance-running champion, Haile Gebreselassie, as saying he, too, would fight at the front.

But footage of the interview did not air and AFP could not independently verify it.

AFP

Tigray Conflict: Scores Of Children In Hospitals Die Of Starvation

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 22, 2020 a member of the Amhara Special Forces stands at the border crossing as people cross from Eritrea, in Humera, Ethiopia. AFP

 

Nearly 200 young children have died of starvation in hospitals across Ethiopia’s Tigray region as malnutrition soars one year after a brutal conflict broke out, according to a new survey.

The data collected from 14 hospitals offers a rare look at the scale of suffering in Tigray, which is grappling with a communications blackout and what the UN describes as a de facto aid blockade, meaning most essential medical supplies are no longer available.

Yet the toll is hardly comprehensive, given that most health facilities are not functional and Tigrayan health workers have only been able to reach roughly half of the region’s districts, said Dr Hagos Godefay, head of the health bureau in Tigray’s pre-war government.

Hagos described the unpublished findings, some of which were collected in partnership with Mekele University in Tigray’s capital, in an interview with AFP this week.

“We have registered more than 186 deaths,” Hagos said, referring to fatalities caused by severe acute malnutrition in children younger than five. “We collected this information from hospitals only.”

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Some 29 per cent of children are acutely malnourished, up from nine per cent before the war, Hagos said.

(FILES) Children look at books in the library of an elementary school that was damaged during the fighting that broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, in the village of Bisober.  AFP

 

For severe acute malnutrition, the figure is 7.1 per cent, up from 1.3 per cent before the war, he said.

Only 14 per cent of surveyed households report having enough access to food, down from 60 per cent, he said, adding that he fears what is unfolding in areas his teams have so far been unable to reach.

“For those areas that are not accessible, you can only imagine how many children are dying because of starvation. They are living in remote areas, there is no water… there is no food, no communication, no health facility,” he said.

“So I am telling you if we go to the remote areas it will double for sure.”

 ‘It’s catastrophic’

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to topple the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.

The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate promised a swift victory, but by late June the TPLF had retaken most of the region including Mekele and has since advanced south.

Since mid-July less than 15 per cent of needed aid has been able to enter Tigray, according to the UN, raising the spectre of the kind of mass starvation that turned Ethiopia into a byword for famine in the 1980s.

AFP has previously documented scattered starvation deaths in multiple parts of Tigray, describing how mothers feed leaves to their children in a desperate bid to keep them alive.

The survey findings Hagos described covering the four months from late June, when the TPLF retook control of Mekele, to late October.

The 14 hospitals still functioning in the region are each recording between three and four deaths weekly due to ordinarily treatable illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhoea, Hagos said.

He added he was especially worried for tens of thousands of Tigrayans under “chronic follow-up”, including 55,000 HIV-positive patients and others battling conditions like cancer, hypertension and diabetes.

“If we are not able to manage them, if we are not able to provide them drugs… it’s catastrophic,” he said.

 ‘Frustrated’ doctors

Abiy’s government has rejected claims it is blocking aid to Tigray, saying access has been restricted because of TPLF advances into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

In an interview with CNN last week, Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said “the onus of responsibility on humanitarian access… is on the TPLF”.

The US, however, has said access to essential supplies and services was “being denied by the Ethiopian government” while denouncing “indications of a siege”.

And aid workers have sounded the alarm about government-imposed restrictions on medicines entering the region.

Hagos said that with health facilities damaged across Tigray, banking services suspended and supply stocks now empty, there is little health workers can do.

“The commitment from the health workforce is really amazing. They just want to work even without having a salary, but they don’t have food to eat,” he said.

As foreign envoys scramble to end the conflict, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken due in neighbouring Kenya early Wednesday, the TPLF has said lifting the “siege” of Tigray is a condition for any ceasefire.

Hagos, too, said it was a must, describing the current situation as “collective punishment”.

“The rights of the people of Tigray are not what we are negotiating here,” he said.

“If negotiations are to be done, they can only be on issues concerning a political settlement.”

Over A Dozen Local UN Staff Held In Ethiopia

In this file photo taken on August 01, 2019 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

More than a dozen Ethiopian staffers working for the United Nations have been arrested in Addis Ababa in raids targeting ethnic Tigrayans under a state of emergency, UN and humanitarian sources told AFP Tuesday.

“Some of them were taken from their homes,” one of the sources said, while a UN spokeswoman in Geneva said requests for their release had been submitted to the foreign ministry.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government announced a six-month nationwide emergency a week ago amid rising fears that fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel groups could advance on the capital.

Human rights groups including Amnesty have denounced the emergency measures, which allow for anyone suspected of supporting “terrorist groups” to be searched and held without a warrant.

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Lawyers say arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans — commonplace during the war — have spiked in the last week, ensnaring thousands.

Law enforcement officials describe such detentions as part of a legitimate crackdown on the TPLF and OLA.

Tensions between Abiy’s government and the UN have been high throughout the war, which has left thousands dead and, according to UN estimates, pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.

In late September Ethiopia’s foreign ministry announced it was expelling seven senior UN officials for “meddling” in the country’s affairs.

Abiy sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF, but by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of the region.

Since then Tigray has been under what the UN describes as a de facto aid blockade.

UN security officers “have visited the detained colleagues”, a UN spokeswoman in Geneva told AFP Tuesday.

“Notes verbales have also been sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to request the immediate release of the detained personnel,” the spokeswoman said.

A spokesperson for the world body in Ethiopia, meanwhile, said the UN was “in the process of verifying and following up on the reports of arrests related to its staff members”.

“The safety and security of UN staff remain at the highest priority for the UN in Ethiopia,” the spokesperson said.

AFP

Ethiopia’s Oromo Rebel Leader Predicts Victory ‘Very Soon’

In this file photo taken on June 20, 2021 Local farmers walk next to a damaged tank that is abandoned along the road in Dansa, southwest of Mekele in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

A rebel leader fighting Ethiopia’s government has said his troops are near the capital and preparing another attack, predicting the war will end “very soon” as diplomats rush to negotiate a ceasefire.

Jaal Marroo, commander of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), warned Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that pro-government fighters were defecting and the rebels were very close to victory.

“What I am sure (of) is that it is going to end very soon,” Jaal, whose real name is Kumsa Diriba, told AFP in a phone interview on Sunday.

“We are preparing to push for another launch, and for another attack. The government is just trying to buy time, and they are trying to instigate civil war in this country, so they are calling for the nation to fight.”

READ ALSO: UN Envoy Visits Tigray, Pleads For Humanitarian Access

The OLA and its allies, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have claimed several victories in recent weeks, taking towns some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital, and have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.

Jaal said his fighters were now just 40 kilometres from Addis and had “never moved (back) an inch” from territory they controlled.

AFP could not independently confirm his claim.

Much of the conflict-affected zone is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield positions difficult to verify.

The government has rejected suggestions the rebels are within striking distance of Addis Ababa, but has ordered the capital to prepare to defend itself.

“While we are being tested on many fronts, our collective will to realise the path we have embarked upon has strengthened us,” Abiy said on Twitter on Monday, a day after tens of thousands marched in Addis Ababa in support of the government.

Government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said the military had carried out air strikes on Monday in Tigray and a “strategic” location between Amhara and Afar regions, without giving further details.

The rebels say they have taken key towns in southeastern Amhara, close to the Afar border.

Sweeping arrests

Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission on Monday expressed concern about a sweeping crackdown in Addis Ababa since a nationwide state of emergency was declared on November 2.

“The Commission… has verified that arrests are being conducted in a manner that seems to be based on identity and ethnicity,” it said, adding that those detained included mothers with children.

A number of countries have urged citizens not to travel to Ethiopia, and the US embassy announced over the weekend it was pulling out non-essential staff.

The UN has suspended non-essential travel to Addis Ababa, citing the “deterioration of security conditions in parts of Ethiopia, including the potential for a very serious security impact” in the capital, according to an internal communique dated Saturday and seen by AFP Monday.

Jaal said the OLA posed “no threat” to ordinary civilians but that Abiy and his ruling Prosperity Party have to be “completely removed and cleared” for reconciliation to begin.

“We will make Ethiopia — not just Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa — a peaceful, very stable place to live in. I am very confident there is not going to be conflict after Abiy Ahmed’s regime,” he said.

The OLA has been accused of multiple massacres of ethnic Amhara civilians — charges it denies.

 

Diplomatic efforts

The threat of fresh rebel advances has spurred efforts by foreign envoys to broker a settlement to a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced around two million, and inflicted atrocities and starvation on civilians.

The African Union’s high representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, on Monday told the bloc’s 15-member security body there could be an opening for a deal — but major obstacles remain.

Obasanjo, who on Sunday met TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, did not discuss the sticking points during his briefings.

But diplomats familiar with the negotiations said the TPLF will not talk until aid restrictions on Tigray are lifted, while the government wants the rebels to withdraw from Amhara and Afar first.

“What we felt from (Obasanjo’s) briefing is everybody is somehow a little bit open to a political settlement, but it’s not clear” how gaps would be bridged, said a diplomat who attended Monday’s briefing.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray in November last year to topple the TPLF, accusing them of attacking military bases.

In August, the OLA and TPLF — both designated terrorist groups by the government — announced they had brokered an alliance to fight against a common enemy, despite the two groups holding historic grievances.

 

AFP