The Ethiopian government is now blaming the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF] for the problems in the country’s northern region, including the ongoing humanitarian crisis, as the TPLF says it could consider a ceasefire, in light of fast-changing political and military developments and their ramifications for the peace and security of the country.
“It has become increasingly obvious that the current regime has neither the legitimacy and the constitutional mandate nor the wherewithal to govern the country,” the TPLF said on Thursday.
“In light of this, we are calling for the commitment of a transitional arrangement and an all-inclusive political process that includes the major political actors in the country with a view to addressing the current political and constitutional problems afflicting the country.”
TPLF had issued pre-conditions for ceasefire, shortly after the Ethiopian army withdrew from Mekelle, capital of Tigray, in late June.
They now want the immediate resumption of suspended services such as telecommunication, banking and health services, electricity, all forms of transportation and commerce. It also requires blockade of media to the region is ceased with immediate effect.
They also want the immediate release of withheld Tigrayan budget for the upcoming Ethiopian fiscal year and for the establishment of multiple humanitarian corridors that allow for the provision of humanitarian assistance in all forms.
Other conditions include the release of political prisoners — former members of the national Defense Forces, imprisoned on the basis of their identities; an end to ongoing mass arrests of ethnic-Tigrayans across the country.
The Ethiopian federal police has admitted to detaining a number of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa, saying they had links to TPLF.
“Acceptance of the terms as preconditions for talks about a negotiated ceasefire should be preceded by the implementation of the five terms and should be made public through international and domestic media outlets,” the TPLF statement said.
There was no an immediate reaction from Addis Ababa over the newly proposed set of conditions. But Billene Seyoum, PM Ahmed Abiy’s spokesperson said that it will be difficult for the Ethiopian government to have dialogue with a terror-designated entity which is carrying out attacks in two regional states.
The TPLF had earlier ignored Ethiopia’s unilateral ceasefire which came in the wake of various losses on the battle front. Instead, advanced to regain ground and this week entered the neighbouring Afar region. But international pressure had also been mounting on the warring sides to lay down their arms and allow aid to reach civilians.
Next week, Samantha Power, the USAid Administrator is expected in Addis Ababa to meet with Ethiopian officials on the situation in Tigray, where the TPLF have waged a war against government forces and allied regional militias.
Power’s agenda is to push for action to remove aid blockades to Tigray. But it comes as US and Western allies are pushing for a more significant ceasefire by both sides. Diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa told The EastAfrican there was a push to have both sides honour a ceasefire led by the US and allow humanitarian deliveries to resume.
It was unclear whether the two sides could negotiate ceasefire terms, especially after Ethiopian Prime Minister initially ruled out dialogue with a group he now labels terrorist.
But pressure was mounting on Addis Ababa this past week when Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau spoke with Ethiopian Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen. Mr Garneau said he had raised “concerns” about the humanitarian situation in Tigray.
Cease military action
“Minister Garneau called for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces and government forces to cease military action in and around Tigray,” says a statement from Garneaus’s office, released on Thursday.
“Minister Garneau urged the government of Ethiopia to engage in dialogue with all national parties and regional partners to achieve a political solution to the crisis.”
Ethiopian officials, however, blame the TPLF for atrocities and the international community for staying silent about it. The PM’s spokesperson accused international community of “clear double standards.” “Many that were echoing the well being of Tigrayans in the region are now mute when the TPLF is blocking aid, when it is killing Tigrayans against the TPLF structure, when it is recruiting child soldiers,” she told a press conference on Thursday in Addis Ababa.
“The international community has been mute when civilians are being used as human shields and bullet fodder.”
‘’Regional militia have been grouping against TPLF, joining the Amahara in a quest to stop the Tigray forces’ advance. At some point, however, even the regional militia united against TPLF fought amongst themselves. Somali forces, for instance blocked the main highway from Djibouti, in protest against ‘looting’ by Afar forces. Afar itself had been raided by TPLF a few days earlier.
“Neither the government of Ethiopia nor the Afar and Amhara regions benefit from blocking humanitarian aid to fellow Ethiopians in Tigray,” Demeke told Canadian Foreign Minister, refuting claims Ethiopian forces had blocked roads.
“The TPLF ruled the country almost as a foreign conqueror. Its agenda, one that was hidden from most Ethiopians and the rest of the world, was that of creating an independent Tigray state,” said Berhanu Lemma, a consultant on defence and security policy, and currently the advisor at the Defence Research Centre in Ethiopia. He told The EastAfrican that losing power was only a window for TPLF to pursue its age old ambition, including expanding territory into neighbouring regions.
“The deployment of these regional forces alongside ENDF will defeat TPLF’s propaganda as it is a testimony to the unity against TPLF.”