Nairobi, Kenya — The Ethiopian military has launched a “large-scale” offensive for the first time in a year in the country’s northern Tigray region, Tigray authorities alleged on Wednesday, while the government protested that Tigray forces attacked before.
The new conflict is a significant obstacle to reconciliation efforts and to reaching millions of people starving for food and other needs.
The statements after months were put together by one of Africa’s largest armies. The Ethiopian military this week warned the public against any reports of troop movements. Journalists were not allowed into Tigray for over a year.
The Tigray conflict began in November 2020, killing thousands in Africa’s second most populous country. Now, as such, both sides have acted at a time when the world’s focus is elsewhere – the US presidential election in 2020 and the six-month mark of the Ukraine war on Wednesday.
The Tigray conflict has subsided in recent months amid sluggish reconciliation efforts. But last week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokesman confirmed to journalists that the Tigray government “refuses to accept peace talks”.
An August 23 letter signed by Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael and shared with the AP news agency said Tigray leaders had “conducted two rounds of secret face-to-face negotiations with civilian and military officials.” high level”, the first confirmation of face-to-face negotiations. But the letter says that “unacceptable conditions have been introduced into the peace process,” and it calls on the international community to step in quickly.
A statement by military commander Tigray on Wednesday said that Ethiopian forces, along with Amhara special forces and Amhara militias, “started a large-scale attack at around 5 a.m. in the direction of Alamata, southern Tigray”. Tigray force spokesman Getachew Reda tweeted that the attack came after a “week-long provocation” by forces in the neighboring Amhara area.
Ethiopian military spokesman Getnet Adane did not respond to questions. The government liaison agency in a statement confirmed that Tigray forces carried out the attacks on Wednesday morning. It said if the attacks continued, “the government will take measures to save the country … and also bring (Tigray forces) to the negotiating table whether they like it or not.”
The Ethiopian government has said it is ready for talks, but insists the African Union must lead the reconciliation efforts. The Tigray administration has criticized the mainland agency’s efforts and urgently sought to resume the telephone system, banking and other services that have been largely cut off since the war began.
Earlier this month, the Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an ethnic Tigrayan, described the crisis in Tigray as “the worst disaster on Earth” and wondered if the reason why Global leaders not reacting is due to “the color of the skin of the people in Tigray.”
Humanitarian aid began pouring in to Tigray earlier this year, but a World Food Program report last week said that with little fuel being allowed into the region to supply supplies, “the This has not yet translated into increased humanitarian assistance.” The United Nations agency said “the prevalence of malnutrition has skyrocketed”, with 29% of children being malnourished and 2.4 million people severely food insecure.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told journalists on Wednesday he was “deeply shocked and saddened by the news of the resumption of hostilities” and called for an immediate cease-fire and resumption of hostilities. negotiations along with “adequate guarantees of humanitarian access to those in need and the re-establishment of public services. “
The conflict has also created a humanitarian crisis for millions of people affected by fighting in Amhara and neighboring areas of Afar, while thousands of Tigray are currently living in refugee camps in Sudan.
The AU special envoy, former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, and his spokesman did not respond to questions on Wednesday and have said little about reconciliation efforts.
The fresh skirmishes come as the president of neighboring Kenya, who has been trying to mediate with American support, to the annoyance of Ethiopia, prepares to leave office.
US Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told journalists on Wednesday after completing a five-country African tour during which he discussed Ethiopia with the presidents. of Kenya and Rwanda.
“I actually left Africa two days ago and am somewhat optimistic about the path towards reconciliation, so (the renewed fight) I am hard of hearing,” he said.
Coons visited Ethiopia last year as President Joe Biden’s envoy. “I am very disappointed that Prime Minister Abiy has not made more progress in meeting the commitments he has made, and deeply disappointed that improvements in humanitarian access and (cuts) a limited press and information has gone as slowly as they have,” said Coons.
“The renewed fighting is a stark warning to international and regional members that they must immediately secure negotiations,” said William Davison, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. real peace happens”. “Accordingly, they should instruct opponents to make all their demands while at the negotiating table, rather than set them as preconditions for negotiations.”
AP journalist Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.