Tigray remains without aid despite humanitarian truce
Rebel officials have warned aid still hasn’t reached Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Tigray region, where thousands are at risk of starvation, despite the promise of a humanitarian truce last week.
On Thursday, the Ethiopian government unilaterally declared a ceasefire to allow aid trucks to access the country’s northernmost state, raising hopes of an end to a devastating 16-month civil war.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) initially agreed to a cessation of hostilities, but have since accused the central government of creating “fictitious narratives” to mislead the international community.
“Ethiopian authorities continue to saturate the airwaves with the false claim that humanitarian aid was flowing into Tigray on a daily basis,” it said in a statement on Monday.
The comments come amid mounting scepticism that the truce was a precursor to peace.
“It's not yet clear that either the federal or Tigray governments are willing to make the necessary concessions to make this peace process work,” said William Davison, a senior analyst for Ethiopia at Crisis Group, a conflict-mitigation organisation.
“If the federal government lent all its political and military weight to the humanitarian access issue, then it could provide safe passage for the UN's World Food Programme to consistently deliver food aid to Tigray.”
For months, aid agencies have lobbied the government to lift a blockade on the region of around seven million people, where more than 90 per cent of the population require humanitarian assistance. The last aid truck to deliver supplies to Tigray was in mid-December, forcing NGOs to deliver food and medical equipment by air.
Delivery drivers report being detained en route and three humanitarian workers from Médecins Sans Frontières were killed in June last year as they attempted to access Tigray.
The United Nations said the region requires 100 trucks a day to prevent further casualties. Researchers estimate that up to 200,000 people have already died from starvation.
Early reports over the weekend suggested that humanitarian convoys ready to depart to Tigray from Semera, the capital city of the Afar region, northeastern Ethiopia, have not yet been given the green light by Afar authorities.
Mr Davison told The Telegraph it’s unclear why officials are blocking aid deliveries when the federal government gave clearance and announced the humanitarian truce.
“The degree to which the Afar actors, at a community level and at the regional level, are operating autonomously and so independently of the federal government is hard to assess,” he said.
But analysts believe it could be linked to a complicated situation on the ground. A major roadblock to the peace process is that Tigran forces are occupying parts of Ethiopia’s Afar and Amhara regions – increasing inter-regional tensions that are separate from the dispute with the federal government.
Armed Afar and Amhara militia have fought alongside federal government troops, but they have also pursued their own objectives. The government called on Tigraian insurgents to withdraw from these areas when it announced the humanitarian truce – what is happening on the ground, however, remains hazy.
“Although it was not explicit, that may have been signalling that the federal authorities and their regional allies are insisting on Tigray’s withdrawal from those areas before aid is delivered,” said Mr Davison.
The ambiguity of the statement has led to confusion among stakeholders and humanitarian agencies about whether the truce is currently in place – and how aid should be delivered.
The hold-up has sparked fears that the famine is likely to get much worse the longer the region is cut off from aid supplies.
Concerns are also mounting that the truce may be a smokescreen for the government to get an upper hand in the conflict, despite Ethiopian officials talking publicly about peace. Hundreds of government troops have moved to a town called Kobo on Tigray’s southern border in Amhara state in recent days.
The government claims the troops are there to set up a humanitarian corridor, but local officials fear another offensive.
“Neither the people nor the regional government have adopted the truce,” said Addisu Wedajo, Kobo's mayor. “There is a fear that we will be at risk if the federal forces move, so everyone is holding their ground.”
However, experts are increasingly at odds about predicting what will happen next in Ethiopia. The lack of information coming from the Tigray region and the conflicting messages that are regularly broadcast by both warring parties adds to a layer of uncertainty around how the conflict might develop.