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After a five-month hiatus, fighting has resumed in northern Ethiopia

#fivemonth #hiatus #fighting #resumed #northern #Ethiopia

Fighting between government forces and Tigrayan rebels erupted in northern Ethiopia on Wednesday, with the warring factions accusing each other of breaking a five-month-old ceasefire.

The renewed war was unleashed after both sides repeatedly blamed the lack of progress in efforts to negotiate an end to the brutal 21-month conflict.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said government forces and their allies launched a “full-scale” offensive toward south Tigray early Wednesday.

But the government communications service accused the TPLF of hitting first and said it “destroyed the truce”.

“Notwithstanding the numerous peace options put forward by the Ethiopian government, the armed wing of the terrorist group TPLF, pushing with its latest provocations as of 5 a.m. (0200 GMT), carried out an attack” near South Tigray today, it said it in a statement.

The rivals’ claims could not be independently verified due to restricted access to northern Ethiopia, but there have been reports of fighting around southern Tigray in areas bordering the Amhara and Afar regions.

“They launched the offensive around 5 a.m. local time this morning. We are defending our positions,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda told AFP in a brief message in Nairobi.

He said on Twitter that the “large-scale” offensive “against our positions on the southern front” was launched by the Ethiopian army and special forces and militias from the neighboring Amhara region.

The March ceasefire brought a pause in the brutal conflict that first began in November 2020 and allowed international aid to resume in war-torn Tigray.

On Tuesday, the Ethiopian National Defense Force issued a statement accusing the TPLF of trying to “defame” the army by claiming government troops were moving towards their positions or firing heavy weapons at them.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the TPLF have been locked in a war of words in recent weeks, despite promises of peace talks by both sides.

The two sides disagree over who should lead the negotiations, and the TPLF also insists that basic services must be restored to Tigray’s six million residents before dialogue can begin.

Abiy’s government says all negotiations must be led by the African Union’s Horn of Africa envoy, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is spearheading international peace efforts, but the rebels want outgoing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to mediate.

– Humanitarian Crisis –

The conflict in Africa’s second most populous country has claimed countless lives and there are widespread reports of atrocities, including mass killings and sexual violence.

Millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray, the country’s northernmost region, and the neighboring areas of Afar and Amhara.

The conflict has put Tigray in the grip of a severe humanitarian crisis, with the United Nations World Food Program saying last week nearly half the population is suffering from severe food shortages.

“Hunger has increased, rates of malnutrition have skyrocketed and the situation is expected to worsen as people enter the peak hunger season leading up to this year’s harvest in October,” WFP said.

The somber assessment came despite the humanitarian ceasefire in March, which allowed much-needed international aid convoys to resume in the affected region’s capital, Mekele, as fuel shortages hampered the distribution of aid.

Tigray is largely cut off from the rest of Ethiopia, without basic services such as electricity, communications and banking.

Abiy dispatched troops to Tigray in November 2020 to overthrow the TPLF after months of seething tensions with the party that had dominated Ethiopian politics for three decades.

The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner said it was in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

The TPLF staged a comeback, recapturing Tigray and expanding into Afar and Amhara before the war reached a stalemate.

Last Wednesday, an Ethiopian government committee tasked with reviewing negotiations called for a formal ceasefire to allow services to resume for Tigray as part of a proposal it planned to put to the AU.

But Abiy’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, claimed Thursday the rebels had “not the slightest interest” in peace.

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