TPLF, Ethiopian Government Agree to Indefinite Truce to ‘Pave Way for Resolution’ of 17-Month War
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In November 2021, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed outlined three conditions for peace with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF): attacks on Ethiopian forces must cease, the TPLF must withdraw into the Tigray state, and the group must recognize the legitimacy of his government.
Abiy’s government on Thursday announced a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to reach the northern Tigray state, where the TPLF-led government has rebelled against his rule since November 2020. The TPLF reciprocated, according to reports.
“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 statement said, according to the state-funded Fana Broadcasting Corporate. (FBC).
“The Government calls upon the donor community to redouble their generous contributions to alleviate the situation and reiterates its commitment to work in collaboration with relevant organizations to expedite the provision of humanitarian assistance to those in need,” the statement added
The government said humanitarian flights would increase and that fuel and cash payments would soon arrive. Aid will arrive by plane from the International Committee of the Red Cross (CRC), the European Union, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations. The government added it has been working to facilitate humanitarian assistance through a route connecting Djibouti, the Afar capital of Abala, and the Tigray capital of Mekelle.
“To optimize the success of the humanitarian truce, the Government calls upon the insurgents in Tigray to desist from all acts of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have occupied in neighboring 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.
Nearly a year and a half of conflict have created a massive humanitarian crisis, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimating that 9.4 million people in Amhara, Afar and Tigray states are in need of aid, including food, medicine and fuel and an estimated 4 million have been internally displaced. A report produced earlier this month by Ghent University researchers documented the deaths of some 12,478 civilians in Tigray, but claimed without evidence that the true number was closer to 500,000. There has been no attempt at calculating a death toll in the Amhara and Afar states, which the TPLF invaded last year before being repulsed by Ethiopian forces in December 2021.
The TPLF launched a new offensive into western Afar in January, claiming it was chasing down a force of Eritrean mercenaries that had been foraying into eastern Tigray. However, TPLF forces have been blamed for a major attack on a refugee camp in Afar for the Red Sea Afar people, who come from Eritrea. The offensive has also endangered humanitarian aid along the Abala-Mekelle route, causing a large UN World Food Program convoy to turn back to Djibouti.
The TPLF welcomed Abiy’s peace overtures, although its response stopped short of acknowledging Abiy’s government as the legitimate Ethiopian government - a key tenet for peace as outlined by Addis Ababa.
Statement by the Government of #Tigray on Cessation of Hostilities.— Tigray External Affairs Office (@TigrayEAO) March 24, 2022
March 24, 2022. pic.twitter.com/qGe9uVekWA
“If the right circumstances arise for our people to receive the level of humanitarian assistance commensurate with needs on the ground, and within a reasonable timeframe, the Government of Tigray is committed to implementing a cessation of hostilities effective immediately,” the TPLF statement said. “The Government of Tigray will do everything it can to make sure that this cessation of hostilities is a success. We call on the Ethiopian authorities to go beyond empty promises and take concrete steps to facilitate unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray.”
Abiy’s announcement came a day after Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonen met in Addis with David Satterfield, the new US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa. Ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti told reporters on Wednesday that he had told Satterfield he was confident that the US would discard two sanctions bills working their way through Congress since they are “ not reflective of the longstanding and historical relations of the two countries” and “put the lives of ordinary Ethiopians in danger rather than promote peace and democracy in the country.”
“Special Envoy David Satterfield said that the United States has appreciated and acknowledged the positive steps taken by the Ethiopian government to pacify and stabilize the country,” the ministry said, referring to the release of political prisoners and the early ending of the state of emergency, among other measures.
However, the US words come after revelations in November and December 2021 that the US played a key role in supporting the TPLF during its drive on the Ethiopian capital. A leaked video of a Zoom call between a senior TPLF leader and Western diplomats, including US Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto, showed the diplomats congratulating the TPLF on its territorial gains and speaking warmly of a post-Abiy transition government. Later, TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda said on Tigrayan television that the Americans had told them to enter Addis.
The TPLF ruled all of Ethiopia between 1991 and 2018, during which time it constructed a federal system to control the country’s dozens of other ethnicities and moved most of its military and industries into the northern Tigray state. During that time, Ethiopia cooperated closely with the US War on Terror and the newly formed US Africa Command, providing facilities and troops that were key to advancing US interests on the continent.
When the non-Tigray ethnic groups in the ruling alliance broke with the TPLF in 2018 and nominated Abiy, an Oromo, to be the next prime minister, Abiy’s new government was restructured to reduce the dominance of the TPLF and he ended the war with Eritrea the TPLF had begun 20 years earlier. In response, the TPLF began to increasingly defy his government until mounting a sneak attack on Ethiopian troops in Tigray in November 2020, starting the present conflict, which soon included Eritrea on Ethiopia’s side.