Alex de Waal, BBC Africa Analyst
In Ethiopia, the war between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has resumed in full force. There is uncertainty about the return to negotiations.
Both sides agree that the first bullet that started the conflict was fired from the town of Kobo, on the southern borders of Tigray, in the early morning of August 24. Both sides blame each other.
According to information from Western diplomats, the Ethiopian National Defense Force and its ally Amhara militia known as Fano had dispatched a large military force to the region in the previous weeks.
The TPLF, on the other hand, narrowed its ranks with its campaign of mass conscription and devoted most of its resources to training and rearmament. However, he also denied the allegations of forced conscription.
There are rumors that the TPLF seized a large arsenal from the federal army during last year’s conflict and purchased new weapons from abroad.
Although tensions have been rising recently, until just a few weeks ago there was optimism that peace talks would begin soon.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed handed the chairmanship of the peace committee, which started its activities in July, to his deputy, Demokrate Mekonnen.
Prior to that, it was reported that Abiy had assigned senior officials to secretly negotiate with the TPLF.
At the sessions in Seychelles and Djibouti, it was agreed that Ethiopian forces would lift the Tigray blockade, Eritrea would withdraw its troops to support the government, and the two sides would begin talks hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. The first agenda item in the talks was to achieve a permanent ceasefire.
Behind the scenes, the US strongly supported these talks and was working in partnership with Kenya.
the background of the war
The militia organization called the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was part of the alliance that overthrew the government in 1991.
This structure remained effective until 2019, when Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed formed a new coalition government, which the TPLF refused to participate in.
Continuing its power in Tigray, the TPLF went to the elections in September 2020, not recognizing the Ahmet government’s decision to postpone the elections due to the Covid-19 outbreak at the national level.
Two months later, TPLF troops attacked an Ethiopian army base in the area. In response, the federal government launched a major military action against Tigray.
Since then, tension and conflict in the region has continued at the military level.
‘Hunger is used as a weapon’
Visiting the Tigray capital, Mekelle, on 2 August, US Special Representative Mike Hammer and European Union and United Nations envoys called for “rapid resumption of electricity, telecommunications, banking and other essential services” and “unlimited humanitarian access” in the region. . Abiy had agreed to fulfill them.
The TPLF accuses the government of not fulfilling its commitments.
The government does not accept the allegations that there was any meeting with the TPLF. International envoys are also keeping quiet about why the talks broke down.
Throughout July and August, Addis Ababa has largely blockaded essential services, allowing only very little food, medicine and fertilizer to reach the country.
The TPLF argues that Ababa uses hunger as a weapon and that international aid is extremely inadequate.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael said in an open letter to international leaders on the eve of the war:
“Whichever way we turn, we are fast approaching the point where we face death. Our choice is whether we will starve or die fighting for our rights and dignity.”
The number of people who died of starvation is unknown.
No one knows the total number of deaths from starvation in Tigray, but a study conducted earlier this year by a Belgian-led academic team estimated that as many as 500,000 Tigrays have died of starvation and related causes since the civil war began in November 2020.
Since the TPLF took over in June 2021, almost no one from the international press or aid organizations has been allowed to enter the region.
The crisis seems to deepen in the short term.
The Ethiopian air force bombed Mekelle last week, hitting a kindergarten, killing seven people, including three children, according to medical personnel. The government denied these allegations. A second airstrike was reported on Mekelle on Tuesday night.
The Ethiopian air force claimed to have shot down a plane bringing weapons to Tigray from Sudanese airspace. TPLF denied this.
There are reports of large troops moving in Eritrea near the Tigray border. The Eritrean government did not respond to these allegations.
On Wednesday, clashes were reported west of Tigray towards the Sudanese border.
It is also among the information that a great war broke out for Kobo. Tigray sources claim that a large arsenal was captured, a decisive victory was won against a huge force of 20 divisions.
This claim has not yet been confirmed by independent sources.
The Ethiopian government denies suffering losses. Management announced that it was evacuating Kobo. And news from the city of Woldia, 50km south of Kobo, says the army has not been seen here.
The TPLF has so far not shifted its forces south; He also denied reports that he had captured Woldia.
The TPLF says it wants peace talks to begin immediately.
Nor is there a formal and credible process in place to establish a new administration in the country.
Attempts initiated by the USA and Kenya to date have failed.
The TPLF demands the lifting of the siege as a precondition for any negotiations.
The deaths and suffering last week have proven once again what should have been understood by Ethiopians and the international community by now: the war in Tigray has no military solution.