‘Large-scale’ fighting shatters silence in Tigray. in Ethiopia

Nairobi, Kenya — Ethiopia’s military has launched a “large-scale” offensive in the northern region of Tigray for the first time in a year, Tigray authorities said on Wednesday, as the government countered Tigray forces attacking first. It is a significant setback to the mediation efforts as millions of people continue to go hungry for food and other needs.

The conflict began in November 2020, killing thousands in Africa’s second most populous country. Now, as then, both sides have acted at a time when the world was focused elsewhere – the US presidential election in 2020 and the six-month mark of war in Ukraine on Wednesday.

The conflict has calmed down in recent months amid slow mediation efforts. But last week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman claimed that Tigray’s authorities “refused to accept peace talks,” and this week Ethiopia’s military warned the public against reporting troop movements.

For their part, an Aug. 23 letter signed by Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael and shared with The Associated Press said that Tigray’s leaders had “held two confidential personal interviews with senior military and civilian officials” — the first confirmation from direct But it said “unacceptable conditions have been included in the peace process”, and urged the international community to intervene quickly.

All parties have committed abuses in the conflict. On Wednesday, the United Nations said Tigray forces forcibly broke into a World Food Program warehouse in the regional capital of Mekele, taking 12 fuel tankers intended to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid.

Tigray’s military command said Ethiopian forces, along with fighters from the neighboring region of Amhara, “started a large-scale attack towards Alamata, in the south of Tigray around 5:00 am.”

The government of Ethiopia said Tigray forces attacked first and warned that if the attacks continue, “the government will take steps to save the country…

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The government of Ethiopia has said it is ready for talks but insists that the African Union should lead the mediation efforts. Tigray authorities have criticized the continental body’s efforts and are urgently seeking the resumption of telephone, banking and other services that have been largely cut off to the region of 6 million people since the start of the war.

Earlier this month, the director-general of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an ethnic Tigrayan, described the Tigray crisis as “the worst disaster on Earth” and wondered aloud whether the reason world leaders failed to respond was due to “the color of the skin of the people of Tigray.”

Earlier this year, humanitarian aid began flowing to Tigray, but the World Food Program said last week that with little fuel allowed, “this has yet to translate into more humanitarian aid.” The UN agency said malnutrition “has skyrocketed”, with 29% of children being malnourished and 2.4 million people severely food insecure.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “deeply shocked” by the resumption of fighting and called for an immediate ceasefire and resumption of talks, along with “the full guarantee of humanitarian access to people in emergency and the restoration of public services.”

The humanitarian crisis is extending to millions of people in the Amhara and Afar regions, while thousands of Tigrayans now live in refugee camps in Sudan.

The AU envoy, former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, did not respond to questions. Like other envoys from the United States and the European Union who have visited Tigray, he has said little about mediation efforts.

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Fighting resumes as the president of neighboring Kenya, who has tried to mediate with US support, to Ethiopia’s chagrin, prepares to leave office.

“This is one of the most important and brutal conflicts on Earth,” US Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after completing a visit to five countries in Africa, during which he discussed Ethiopia with the presidents of Kenya and Rwanda.

“I had actually left Africa two days ago, somewhat optimistic about the path for mediation, so (the renewed fighting) is very discouraging to hear,” said Coons, who visited Ethiopia last year as President Joe Biden’s envoy. “I am very disappointed that Prime Minister Abiy has not made more progress in delivering on the commitments he has made,” including on humanitarian and media access, he said.

The renewed fighting is a “deafening warning to key international and regional actors that they must immediately ensure peace talks take place,” said International Crisis Group analyst William Davison. “They should therefore instruct the warring parties to formulate all their demands at the negotiating table, instead of setting them conditions for talks.”


Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations contributed to this report.

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