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The rebels of the Tigray region, in conflict for seventeen months with the Ethiopian army, in turn committed themselves, Friday, March 25, to respect a ceasefire, a few hours after the announcement by the government Ethiopian from a “unlimited humanitarian truce”.
In a statement issued Friday morning, the Tigrayan rebels “undertake to implement a cessation of hostilities, effective immediately” and call on the Ethiopian government to “take concrete steps to facilitate unrestricted access to Tigray”a region in northern Ethiopia where hunger threatens.
The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed decreed on Thursday a “unilateral humanitarian truce”to allow “the free flow of humanitarian aid to those in need of assistance” in Tigray, where no relief convoy to the population has arrived by road since December 15, 2021. While considering that “linking political and humanitarian issues is unacceptable”the rebels say they are determined that the ceasefire “be a success” and ensure that they “will do their best to give peace a chance”.
“De facto humanitarian blockade”
Pro-government and rebel forces from Tigray have been clashing in northern Ethiopia since in November 2020 Abiy Ahmed, Nobel Peace Prize winner the previous year, sent the federal army to dislodge authorities from the then-governed region. by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which had been challenging his authority for months. Quickly defeated, the rebel troops of the TPLF then, during 2021, militarily recaptured Tigray and the conflict has since spread to the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.
The conflict, marked by multiple abuses, has caused a serious humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, where more than 9 million people need food aid, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP). In Tigray, the WFP estimated in January that 4.6 million people, or 83% of the region’s 6 million inhabitants, were in “food insecurity”while 2 million suffered from “extreme shortage of food”.
Since mid-February, humanitarian operations in Tigray – where more than 400,000 people have been displaced by the conflict – have been virtually interrupted by shortages of fuel and cash there, according to the UN.
Fighting in the Afar region is preventing the passage of road convoys of food aid and fuel on the only operational land route, which connects Semera, capital of Afar, and Makalé, capital of Tigray. The UN has long denounced a “de facto humanitarian blockade” of Tigray. The government and the rebels have blamed each other for the situation.
Foreign diplomats led by Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, have been trying for months to secure peace talks with little visible progress. Washington, whose special envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield was in Ethiopia this week, “urges all parties to support” on the announcement of a truce “to advance a negotiated and lasting ceasefire, including necessary security arrangements”the US State Department said early Friday.
“The European Union (EU) welcomes the humanitarian truce decreed by the government of Ethiopia and the cessation of hostilities decided by the authorities of Tigray”, responded the EU representation in Addis Ababa. William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, believes that “the unconditional and unrestricted flow of aid could also help build enough confidence to pave the way for ceasefire talks and, ultimately, dialogue”.
The Ethiopian government had already decreed a unilateral ceasefire on June 28, when TPLF forces entered Makalé. This ceasefire only ran “until the end of the cropping season”. The fighting then resumed, the TPLF rebels advancing in Amhara and Afar, until they claimed to be 200 km from Addis Ababa. They had retreated to Tigray at the end of December 2021, after a counter-offensive by the Ethiopian army which had indicated that it would not enter the region. This withdrawal had raised the hope of seeing the opening of negotiations, quickly showered when the TPLF announced that it would resume fighting in Afar at the end of January.