Ethiopia declares unilateral truce to allow aid into Tigray
Thursday March 24 2022
Ethiopia has declared an indefinite ceasefire to allow free flow of humanitarian aid to the conflict-ravaged northern Tigray region.
The humanitarian truce, announced Thursday by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, was effective immediately.
According to the United Nations, about 10 million people in northern Ethiopia need humanitarian assistance, more than half of them in the Tigray region.
International aid agencies have warned that hundreds of thousands of lives could be in danger if aid is not provided immediately.
The 16-month civil war that broke out in Tigray in November 2020 has claimed thousands of lives and forced millions more to flee their homes as the conflict expanded to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
The truce announcement comes one day after the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, wrapped up his two-day official visit in Ethiopia.
During his stay in Addis Ababa, Mr Satterfield held talks with top Ethiopian government officials, UN officials, and representatives of various humanitarian organisations.
After his Ethiopia visit, he told Reuters that one among the top priorities of President Joe Biden’s administration is to make sure unhindered humanitarian delivery to the war-torn region of Tigray and elsewhere.
Fuel and cash
On Thursday, Addis said it is taking measures to expedite the provision of humanitarian aid to people in need in the Tigray region.
“To this end, it has increased the number of United Nations humanitarian flights and expedited through improved clearance procedures the delivery of fuel and cash for payments by aid organisations,” the government said in a statement.
“However, currently, thousands from the Tigray region are trekking into neighbouring regions in search of assistance. While it is heartening to see the fraternal bond and solidarity that is being demonstrated by communities that are receiving and helping those in need of assistance, the government believes that the situation warrants urgent measures to ensure that those in need are able to receive aid in their localities,” the statement added.
The region has been subject to what the UN says is a de facto blockade.
The United States had accused Abiy’s government of preventing aid from reaching those in need, while the authorities in turn have blamed the rebels for the obstruction.
“The commitment being undertaken by the Government of Ethiopia could have the desired outcome of improving the humanitarian situation on the ground only to the extent that it is reciprocated by the other side.”
To optimise the success of the humanitarian truce, the government called on the rebels in the Tigray region “to desist from all acts of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have occupied in neighbouring regions.”
“The Government of Ethiopia hopes that this truce will substantially improve the humanitarian situation on the ground and pave the way for the resolution of the conflict in northern Ethiopia without further bloodshed,” the statement added.
Rebel fighters loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have been fighting the government and its allied regional and Eritrean forces since November 2020.
TPLF has yet to react to the government’s unilateral truce.
Western nations have been urging both sides to agree to a ceasefire, with the UK and Canada hailing the truce declaration.
“"The UK welcomes the Government of Ethiopia's decision to announce an indefinite humanitarian truce, and to ensure unimpeded access of aid into Tigray. We call on Tigrayan authorities to reciprocate,” the British embassy in Ethiopia said on Twitter.
Canada's embassy to Ethiopia and Djibouti said on Twitter that the announcement was “welcome news, as aid is urgently needed in northern Ethiopia.”
Diplomats led by Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, have been trying for months to broker peace talks, with little evident progress so far.
Analysts said the truce was an important step but urged the government to follow up the announcement with action and ease humanitarian access to Tigray.
“The unconditional and unrestricted delivery of aid could also help create enough trust to pave the way for ceasefire talks and, eventually, dialogue,” said William Davison, the International Crisis Group's senior analyst for Ethiopia.
More than nine million people need food aid across Afar, Amhara and Tigray, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
But humanitarian organisations have been forced to increasingly curtail activities because of fuel and supply shortages.
“WFP operations in the Tigray region have ground to a halt, with only emergency fuel stocks and less than one percent of the required food stocks remaining,” the agency said this week.
A TPLF push into Afar has worsened the situation, driving up the need for emergency aid in the region.
The road from Afar’s capital, Semera, to Tigray’s capital Mekele is the only operational land route into Tigray, where the UN estimates hundreds of thousands are living in famine-like conditions.
The government previously declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in Tigray in June last year, after the TPLF mounted a shock comeback and retook the region from federal forces.
But fighting intensified in the second half of 2021, with the rebels at one point claiming to be within 200 kilometres (125 miles) of the capital Addis Ababa, before reaching a stalemate.