Ethiopia declares a ‘humanitarian truce effective immediately’ in Tigray

By Fred Harter
Posted on Thursday, 24 March 2022 17:48, updated on Friday, 25 March 2022 10:11

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed campaigns in Jimma
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends his last campaign event ahead of Ethiopia's parliamentary and regional elections scheduled for June 21, in Jimma, Ethiopia, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopia has declared an “indefinite humanitarian truce”, stating it will allow aid to start flowing into its embattled Tigray region.

Updated 25 March at 10:00am (Paris)

In response to the government statement, the TPLF says it is willing to observe the truce if Tigray received humanitarian assistance “commensurate with needs on the ground and within a reasonable timeframe.”

“The Government of Tigray will do everything it can to make sure that this cessation of hostilities is a success,” the rebel group said in the statement. “We call on the Ethiopian authorities to go beyond empty promises and take concrete steps to facilities unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray.”

No humanitarian supplies have entered Tigray by road since 14 December, although limited amounts of aid have been flown in by air in recent weeks. The United Nations says that more than 90% of the region’s 6 million inhabitants are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

“Cognizant of the need to take extraordinary measures to save lives and reduce human suffering, the Government of Ethiopia hereby declares an indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately,” the government said in a statement on Thursday.

Clashes still persist

Although fighting has subsided in the Tigray and Amhara regions, clashes persist in Afar, where the TPLF is active in six districts. The government called on the TPLF to withdraw from these areas while also calling on the international community to step up aid efforts.

Tigray has been cut off from the rest of Ethiopia since June, when the TPLF recaptured much of the region from federal forces and their allies. Road links, telecommunications and banking services were severed, a situation the UN officials have called a “de facto blockade”.

The government has denied it has obstructed aid entering the Tigray, blaming the TLPF’s incursion into Afar for bringing the aid trucks to a halt. It has also accused the TPLF of commandeering for military purposes trucks delivering aid to Tigray.

“Alleviating the plight of those affected by the conflict is of the utmost priority and a responsibility the government takes seriously,” said the statement. “The Government of Ethiopia is committed to exert maximum effort to facilitate the free flow of emergency humanitarian aid into the Tigray region.”

Open humanitarian access?

It is not clear whether the truce will clear the path for unfettered humanitarian access to the war-stricken region. A previous humanitarian ceasefire declared by the government in June failed to yield results and communities in Afar have blocked aid trucks attempting to reach Tigray.

The unconditional and unrestricted delivery of aid could also help create enough trust to pave the way  for ceasefire talks and create the conditions for dialogue.

Earlier this month a humanitarian convoy was reportedly looted and its drivers assaulted in Afar after the federal government granted it permission to travel to Mekelle, Tigray’s capital. A aid worker said: “Until we get Afar on board, we’re not moving the trucks anywhere.”

Selmawit Kassa, the state minister for the government’s communication service, refused to comment on whether the truce was a step towards the declaration of a comprehensive ceasefire in the 16 month-long civil war, although in its statement the government said it hopes the truce will “pave the way for the resolution of the conflict in the northern Ethiopia [sic] without further bloodshed.”

William Davison, senior analyst for Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group, described the truce as an “important step” but added that it needs to be “translated into action.”

“The delivery of humanitarian aid is crucial for the population of Tigray, who have not received any form of such aid since December and are living in dire conditions since the start of the conflict in November 2020,” says Davison. “The unconditional and unrestricted delivery of aid could also help create enough trust to pave the way  for ceasefire talks and create the conditions for dialogue.”

In its most recent update the UN said “three quarters of the population reported to be using extreme coping strategies to survive” in Tigray” while also warning that food insecurity was expected to increase in the coming months once stocks from last year’s harvest are depleted.

On Tuesday 22 March, World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is from Tigray, tweeted that “Tigray is on the edge of a major humanitarian disaster unless the siege is ended.”

In a report released on Thursday 24 March, Human Rights Watch said a government airstrike on a displacement camp in Tigray killed 57 civilians on 7 January and described the strike as “an apparent war crime.”

A government spokesperson refused to comment on its findings.

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