NAIROBI, Kenya – Ethiopia’s government on Thursday announced what it called a “humanitarian ceasefire” with troops it has been fighting for 17 months in the northern region of Tigray, where millions are starving and food aid has not been delivered since December.
The deadly conflict in Africa’s second most populous country has pitted the Ethiopian army against rebels with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or the TPLF leaders of the TPLF have not immediately responded to reports of the ceasefire, but have long pushed the Ethiopian government accused of blocking access to aid to the region.
Announcing the unilateral ceasefire, which came into effect immediately, the Ethiopian government said it acted as thousands of people from Tigray began flooding into neighboring regions to seek help.
“While it is heartwarming to see the brotherly bond and solidarity shown by communities that receive and help those in need, the government believes the situation warrants urgent action to ensure that those in need are able to to receive aid in their places,” the government said in a statement on Twitter and on Facebook.
The war in Ethiopia, which began in November 2020, has killed thousands, displaced more than two million people from their homes and been the focus of massive human rights violations, including ethnic cleansing, massacres and sexual violence.
From the beginning of the war, fighting in Tigray, and later in the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, hampered relief efforts. Former UN humanitarian official Mark Lowcock accused the government of obstructing aid shipments last May.
Gezahegn Gebrehana, Ethiopia’s country director for the charity Oxfam, said the parties to the conflict should use this moment to de-escalate and allow unfettered access to aid.
“We hope this move will lead to a lasting and inclusive peace before more lives and livelihoods are unnecessarily lost,” Mr Gebrehana said in an emailed statement.
More than nine million people now need food aid in Tigray, Afar and Amhara, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Three quarters of the population in Tigray now uses “extreme coping strategies to survive,” the UN humanitarian agency said in a report this month.
According to Oxfam, the country in the Horn of Africa is also experiencing a severe drought.
The government said it will work with aid groups to accelerate the delivery of food and water to those in need. It added that it hoped the ceasefire would facilitate an end to the conflict, and called on Tigrayan fighters to “renounce all forms of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have in neighboring regions.” busy”.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Tigray External Affairs Office, which is responsible for official communications from the Tigray government, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It is not the first time that the Ethiopian government has declared a unilateral ceasefire in the war. It first did so last June, after the Ethiopian army routed into Tigray and the TPLF recaptured Mekelle. But before long, fighting erupted elsewhere between government forces, the TPLF fighters and their allies.
Understand the war in Ethiopia
The announcement of this latest ceasefire came just days after David Satterfield, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, visited senior officials in Ethiopia and urged the delivery of humanitarian aid to Tigray.
On Thursday, a foreign ministry spokesman said in an emailed statement that the United States welcomed and “firmly” supported the Ethiopian government’s decision.
However, other UN and Western officials were skeptical that the ceasefire would last. Relief flights to Tigray continue to be disrupted and it was not clear whether militias in Afar would allow relief to travel by road to Tigray, while many people in Afar are also desperate for help.
The war in Ethiopia has also proved risky for humanitarian workers. At least seven have been attacked and killed while working in the region since the start of the war. A DailyExpertNews investigation published last week found that Ethiopian soldiers were most likely responsible for the shooting of three MSF aid workers in the Tigray region last June.
A spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the report “unfounded” at a press conference in the capital Addis Ababa on Thursday. Dina Mufti, the spokesman, said the government regretted the killings and had set up an investigation group but was unable to access the area because it was under the control of the TPLF