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Ethiopia: Food insecurity high as Tigray conflict spreads to Amhara and Afar

By Samuel Getachew
Posted on Saturday, 14 August 2021 02:34

Women hold national flags during a rally to support the National Defense Force and to condemn the expansion of the Tigray People Liberation Front fighters into Amhara and Afar regional territories at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 8 August 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Weeks after Ethiopia declared unilateral ceasefire in its northern region of Tigray, it is calling for its citizens to take arms and join the ranks of its defence forces and militias to help end the belated success of the resurgent Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF).

The Ethiopian government had said the reason for the ceasefire was conditional: to allow farmers to farm where – according to the United Nations – more than 90% of the population is in need of emergency food aid and where – according to the United States – a million people are facing famine.

There has been limited movement of aid vehicles towards Tigray as violence intensifies in Afar while the Amhara region has been off-limits because of the decades-long animosity between the two regions.

The United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report on Ethiopia following a visit by the organisation’s head – Martin Griffiths – who called for immediate humanitarian access.

TPLF committed gross human rights violations on ethnic Amharas just because they are Amharas. However, after all this, I think the people of Amhara and Tigray have many common interests and share similar values.

According to Griffiths, more than 1 million people have become IDPs because of the recurring conflict within Ethiopia – a nation of an estimated 110 million people and that was once one of the most stable nations in a region prone to conflicts.

Designated a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government, TPLF had rejected the sudden ceasefire from the federal government that saw its sudden overture as belated retaliation during its march towards the capital, Mekelle.

TPLF set its own conditions including the immediate withdrawal of the Eritrean troops, availability of federal funds to fund its activities and removal of the interim government appointed by Addis Ababa in lieu of the one led by TPLF that was elected in a controversial vote last year.

‘Survival campaign’

It had been battling from the trenches of its own region and most recently, the Amhara region, capturing the UNESCO-recognised historic city of Lalibela. Last month, the president of the Amhara region called on the population to mobilise their resources and fight the TPLF as part of a ‘survival campaign’.

The two regions have been in a decades-long fight (over a disputed border) that began at the behest of the once coalition-led Ethiopian government, of which TPLF was part and that ended in 2018.

“TPLF’s aggression is intensifying, expanding its territorial annexation of Amhara lands. They are also shelling towns such as Woldia with tanks and other heavy artilleries, killing dozens of civilians, in what seems to be a revenge attack against the resistance it faced [from] heroic Woldia residents and combined forces,” Dessalegn Chanie Dagnew, a senior member of NaMA (an Amhara nationalist party) told The Africa Report.

So far, Adi-Arekay, Abergele, Chercher, Raya Alamata, Korem, Kobo, Lasta, Gidan, Habiru and Meket Woredas have been captured by the rebel group and Woldiya is expected to follow suit, according to Dagnew.

“In the areas [under their control], TPLF militias are pillaging the wealth and resources of local communities, indiscriminately murdering civilians, and gang raping girls and women,” he said.

The conflict began last November with ‘clear, limited and achievable objectives’. However, it has now prolonged, causing thousands of deaths; destruction of infrastructure; displacement of thousands of people into other regions within Ethiopia and into Sudan; as well as the suspension of aid and diplomatic support for the one-time ally of the European Union and the Biden administration.

Glimmer of hope?

The office of Prime Minister Abiy further accused the TPLF of being a terrorist group that is colluding with internal and external enemies “to dismantle the nation”.

“The treasonous TPLF [can]not extricate itself from its terrorist behaviour and goal of disintegrating Ethiopia. The killings and looting of communities in neighboring Amhara and Afar regions continue,” the statement reads.

There is a possibility of the conflict spilling to other nations and a negotiated ceasefire becoming a far-fetched reality.

However, there seems to be a glimmer of hope even as the conflict continues to grow, with no end in sight for most. Belay Menaye, an Amhara activist and journalist, accuses the TPLF of human rights abuses, yet sees a shared value between the two ethnic groups.

“The unresolved issues between the two regions are basically identity and territorial disputes. These issues have been [part of] main public agendas of Amhara people that ignited public uprisings against ‘TPLF-led’ EPRDF,” Menaye told The Africa Report.

“TPLF committed gross human rights violations on ethnic Amharas just because they are Amharas, particularly in Wolkaite and Raya areas; but after all [this], I think the people of Amhara and Tigray have many common interests and share similar values,” he said.

Last week, Samantha Power, an administrator with USAID, visited Ethiopia to further echo the mission of the Biden administration. The Ethiopian government however accuses the agency of siding with the TPLF in its bid to help negotiate a ceasefire for its one-time ally and deliver humanitarian aid.

Additionally, the Ethiopian government and the TPLF blame each other for the recent conflict that is restricting the agency from achieving its intended mission. The USAID administrator was rebuffed, pushing the conflict to a new frontier, far from Tigray, into other regions. Consequently, there is now a possibility of the conflict spilling to other nations and a negotiated ceasefire becoming a far-fetched reality.

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