The Addis Ababa government described the Ethiopian army’s seizure of Tigray’s capital Merkel in late November as the final blow to troops loyal to the former government in the northern region.
But on June 29, seven months after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abi Ahmed declared victory, after the Tigray army launched a large-scale counterattack, his troops withdrew from Merkler due to their defeat on the battlefield.
A few hours after the city was evacuated, Ethiopia announced that it had imposed a unilateral ceasefire, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons.
“The main goal of the ceasefire is to facilitate the delivery of aid and allow farmers to grow crops peacefully,” Abraham Belle, the leader of the now overthrown Tigray Interim Government, explained in a speech on national television shortly after the takeover.
The announcement comes as Ethiopia is facing increasing international pressure because of credible reports of extrajudicial executions, widespread rapes and similar famines in Tigray. The United Nations estimates More than 90% Six million of its 6 million inhabitants need emergency food assistance.
It instilled some hope that after eight months of brutal warfare, fighting in the region might cease. But on the day the Ethiopian army withdrew from Merkel, the entire Tigray telephone line and the limited Internet access used by aid organizations for their operations were cut off.
Then, there were reports that a bridge on the Tekeze River was destroyed, which was a key crossing point for the delivery of aid to Tigray. Both factions at war blamed each other.
Developments continue to hinder assistance to the affected population, including some of the 2 million people who have been internally displaced by the war.
Neven Crvenković said: “We are very worried about the restrictions on access to Tigray, because Shire and Mekel airports are closed, and some roads connecting Tigray are blocked, especially Shire, where we have an operating base in the Amhara region. The road between De Bakker and the spokesperson of the United Nations Ethiopian Refugee Agency.
“The bridge across the Tekeze River was destroyed and the road was impassable-this severely affected our ability to transport employees, aid supplies, and basic supplies such as food, fuel and cash.”
In addition to the sabotage, since Mekelle was captured by troops loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Regional Party, the statements of the warring factions have hardly reconciled, and they have recently been renamed the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF).
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda has since publicly threatened to send Tigray’s troops to Eritrea. Eritrean troops have entered Tigray to support Abi’s troops. “Our main focus is to reduce the enemy’s combat capabilities,” he told Reuters.
After evacuating from Merkel, Eritrean soldiers also evacuated some towns in Tigray, including Aksum and Hilaro, which they had controlled for several months.
However, the Ethiopian Army Lieutenant General Bacha De Belle warned at a press conference in Addis Ababa last week: “If provoked, [the army] It is possible to advance to Meckler even today. But if we go back, the loss will be much more serious than before. “
For months, Tigray officials have expressed their willingness to negotiate an end to the war.After initially treating the unilateral statement of the federal government as a “joking,” the TPLF on Sunday formulated Condition list Ceasefire negotiations.
But some of these requests, including the request for Addis Ababa to recognize TPLF’s rule of the region, will almost certainly be rejected.
“Neither the Ethiopian government nor TPLF has made meaningful commitments to achieve this openness,” Judd Vermont, director of the U.S. Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Al Jazeera.
“There are still considerable obstacles in providing humanitarian access, and there are always concerns about violations of human rights by all parties.”
Despite the seemingly uncompromising position and the Ethiopian government’s previous refusal to negotiate with TPLF members, this is Designated as a “terrorist organization” The Ethiopian Parliament stated in May that potential third-party mediators have at least one possible way to focus: prisoners.
On July 2, thousands of apparently captured Ethiopian soldiers passed Merkel on their way to a detention facility in the city. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael tell The New York Times stated that junior soldiers will be released, but officers and other commanders will still be detained.
“The number of prisoners of war [prisoners of war] We currently have more than 8,000 people, and it may increase,” TPLF consultant and former Ethiopian diplomat Fesseha Tessema told Al Jazeera. “The International Red Cross has visited them and we are asking aid organizations to assist us for all of them. provide food. “
In an email statement sent to Al Jazeera, an ICRC spokesperson declined to comment on this issue.
According to Fesseha, the Ethiopian government has not yet contacted the TPLF regarding the reportedly captured army. Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s press secretary, did not immediately respond to e-mail inquiries about prisoners of war. Ethiopian officials and official media have not issued any statements on this issue.
For its part, the Ethiopian government is said to hold hundreds-and possibly more-Tigray members of the Ethiopian army, In custody At the beginning of the war, they suspected that they would launch a mutiny. The release of prisoners through negotiations between the two parties can open the door to preliminary negotiations to establish a concrete ceasefire.
Another factor that may ease the tough stance is war fatigue. U.S. Senator Chris Kuhns said that at the end of last year, Prime Minister Abiy told him that the war would end in six weeks.
But the fighting became long and protracted, eventually leading to the US imposing economic sanctions and visa restrictions on Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Abiy said last week that his government spent more than 100 billion birr (US$2.3 billion) on rehabilitation and food aid in the region, excluding the cost of military operations-at the time, national instability and the coronavirus pandemic. The epidemic has had a serious impact. A blow to the national finances.
Ayele Gelan, a research economist at the Kuwait Institute of Science, predicted: “It will take several years, perhaps more than ten years, for Ethiopia’s economy to recover and return to its pre-war state.”
“Even the official report seriously underestimates the actual monetary cost of the war. We have to calculate not only the funds spent in the past eight months, but also the funds used to build the destroyed assets in the past few decades. Tigray’s capital cost is not only Including military assets, but also destroyed roads, bridges, houses, and farms.”
Analysts said that if conventional war breaks out again, TDF may have to retreat from big cities to mountainous areas. The outbreak of new hostilities will first prove disastrous for hundreds of thousands of people who are said to be on the verge of starvation and further destroy the area.
With the advent of the rainy season in Ethiopia, whether or not there is a ceasefire, the ceasefire is of strategic significance to the two warring parties. Once the situation dries out again, the army may use this time to rest, rearm, and redeploy.
The 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea border war killed tens of thousands of people. The rainy season in Ethiopia began in June and ended in late August or early September, and the fighting also calmed down. Before fighting resumed, both sides used these periods to train fighters or dig trenches.
The Ethiopian government itself stated that its unilateral ceasefire will Expires in September, Heightened concerns that the Allied forces are using the rainy season as a recovery period before planning a re-attack. In theory, this may mean that the international community only has about two months to reach a final ceasefire.
The International Crisis Organization said in a statement: “The top priority for all parties now is to facilitate the entry of rescue convoys, increase food assistance to millions of Tigray people, and ensure that farmers can cultivate and plant when the rainy season approaches. ” statement on Friday.
“They should also seek political reconciliation in due course.”