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Tigray situation worsens despite ceasefire

23 July 20210 comments

The United Nations has warned of worsening famine and the potential for further conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front regained the capital Mekelle and claimed victory following an eight-month war with government forces.

Aid groups reiterated calls for humanitarian access, as they remained unable to reach hundreds and thousands of vulnerable people, despite the Ethiopian government declaring a ‘unilateral ceasefire’ which it claimed was partly for humanitarian purposes.

Electricity and telecommunications links remained largely cut off, and the destruction of a bridge blocked a key supply route, further impeding humanitarian efforts in the region where around two million people are displaced and more than 350,000 face famine conditions, the UN reports.

Meanwhile severe storms destroyed 4,000 occupied by Ethiopian refugees in camps in eastern Sudan. More than 16,000 refugees were impacted after strong winds, heavy rainfall, and hailstorms destroyed belongings, tents, latrines and other infrastructure in the camps.

Just prior to the ceasefire Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had – some observers say dubiously – described the recent elections in Ethiopia as the country’s first free and fair polls after decades of one-party rule.

But the claims were overshadowed by a week of escalating violence in the Tigray – one of several places where voting was cancelled.

At least 64 people were killed when an Ethiopian army plane bombed a busy marketplace in the town of Togoga.

A government military spokesman claimed the targets were combatants from the rebel Tigray Defence Forces (TDF).

But health workers said the dead and wounded were civilians, and that soldiers blocked them from reaching the scene.

The strike came as the TDF reportedly retook territory and captured thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, who are now being held as prisoners of war.

Some observers say a popular mandate for Abiy after the polls may convince him to enter negotiations with Tigray’s ousted leaders. But after this week’s events, it seems an unlikely prospect.

They say the situation has become a military a stalemate, with the TDF unable to completely liberate its home area by itself while the Eritrean-Ethiopian-Amhara forces are unable to wipe out Tigrayan resistance.

This has led to an humanitarian crisis with more than 350,000 Tigrayans now facing catastrophic hunger levels – the highest number in any country since the 2011 Somalia famine – while millions more are in need emergency assistance.

The conflict began when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military intervention in November 2020 against the region’s powerful ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), after reports of attacks on government military bases.

Tensions between the TPLF and the federal government had been escalating since September 2020, when Addis Ababa indefinitely postponed regional and national elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic. TPLF officials opposed the decision and organised their own elections.

An ethnic Tigrayan party, the TPLF was the dominant force in Ethiopian politics until Abiy took office in 2018. Its members have since lost positions within the central government, and several officials have been arrested for corruption and human rights abuses.