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Ethiopia’s government is defending itself from accusations that it’s trying to “suffocate the Tigray people” by denying them desperately needed food and other aidBy CARA ANNA Associated PressJuly 2, 2021, 10:22 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopia’s government on Friday rejected accusations that it’s trying to “suffocate the Tigray people” by denying them urgently needed food and other aid, even though transport and communications links remained severed to the region that faces a famine crisis.Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen spoke to reporters a day after a bridge that’s crucial for accessing much of the region of 6 million people was destroyed and the United Nations indicated that special forces from the neighboring Amhara region were to blame. Amhara authorities have occupied western Tigray and forced out hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tigrayans.“The insinuation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as a weapon of war is beyond the pale. There is absolutely no reason for us to do so. These are our people,” Demeke said.The U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Tigray on Friday, France’s U.N. ambassador – the council’s current president – said Thursday.Ethiopia’s government faces growing international pressure as it continues to cut of the region from the rest of the world. In a stunning turn earlier this week, Ethiopia declared a unilateral cease-fire on humanitarian grounds while retreating from Tigray forces.The World Food Program said in a statement on Friday that a second key bridge leading into Tigray was destroyed on Thursday, while no WFP flights bringing in U.N. or other aid workers have been allowed by Ethiopia since June 22. Its work delivering food for Tigray has now resumed after fighting stopped operations on June 24, but “serious challenges” remain.“Lives will be lost if supply routes into Tigray do not fully open and parties to the conflict continue to disrupt or endanger free movement of cargo,” WFP said. The U.N. agency said trucks are loaded and ready to replenish its nearly-exhausted food stocks inside Tigray where 5.2 million people need emergency food aid.Up to 900,000 people in Tigray are facing famine conditions in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, the United States has said. A new U.N. humanitarian update issued late Thursday said “the blackout of electricity, telecommunications, and internet throughout Tigray region will only exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation.”Ethiopia’s foreign minister said the government has a roadmap for dialogue to resolve the Tigray crisis that’s expected to include “rank and file members of the (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) who show readiness to choose a peaceful path.” But Tigray forces now control most of the region and have demanded that Ethiopia return basic services before any talks.“A cease-fire doesn’t mean cutting a region off power or destroying critical infrastructure,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted on Friday. “A credible cease-fire means doing everything possible so that aid reaches the millions of children, women and men who urgently need it.”The security situation in Tigray was generally calm after the retreat of Ethiopian forces and those of neighboring Eritrea, who have been accused by witnesses of some of the worst atrocities in the war.Officials with Eritrea, an enemy of Tigray leaders after a 1998-2000 war along their border, have not responded to requests for comment.Amhara authorities have warned Tigray forces against trying to retake the region’s western areas. But the Tigray forces spokesman told The Associated Press this week that they would “liberate” the region from “enemies.”
A bridge that’s crucial to delivering desperately needed food to much of Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region has been destroyed, as Tigray fighters are said to be approaching other combatants occupying large areas nearbyBy CARA ANNA Associated PressJuly 1, 2021, 9:37 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNAIROBI, Kenya — A bridge that’s crucial to delivering desperately needed food to much of Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region has been destroyed, aid groups said Thursday as Tigray fighters were said to be approaching other combatants occupying large areas nearby.The destruction of the bridge over the Tekeze River “means aid efforts will be even more severely hampered than before,“ the International Rescue Committee said in a statement. Tigray has the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, with the United States saying up to 900,000 people face famine conditions in a situation it calls “entirely man-made.”It was not immediately clear who destroyed the bridge on a main supply route linking western Tigray, which is occupied by forces from the neighboring Amhara region, and the rest of Tigray.Aid groups were looking into reports of other key bridges destroyed. Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s government has prohibited aircraft to fly below 29,000 feet within the airspace over Tigray, according to a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notice posted Wednesday.The Tigray forces, emboldened after retaking the regional capital this week in a stunning turn in the eight-month war with Ethiopia’s military, have taken control of key towns this week, and several thousand of its fighters had been seen to be moving west.The spokesman for the Tigray forces this week told The Associated Press they would “liberate” the region from “enemies” including the Ethiopian forces, Amhara forces and soldiers from neighboring Eritrea.Ethiopia’s government, under pressure from battlefield losses amid some of the fiercest fighting of the war, this week declared an immediate and unilateral cease-fire. Witnesses have seen Eritrean forces retreating toward the border Eritrea shares with Tigray.Amhara authorities have warned the Tigray forces against trying to retake western areas. The Amhara regional spokesman, Gizachew Muluneh, told the AP an investigation would be carried out into the bridge’s destruction. Ethiopian military spokesman Col. Getinet Adane said that “we have the information about it but it will be disclosed in a press conference.”The bridge’s destruction is “disastrous,” tweeted the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. There are just four main roads into the Tigray region of 6 million people and now only one “might be passable,” Samantha Power said, since one is blocked by Amhara forces and another by fighting.France’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, the current president of the U.N. Security Council, said the body would “most likely” hold an open meeting Friday afternoon on developments in Tigray that would include political and humanitarian briefings.He said at a news conference that the council should again demand humanitarian access to Tigray and compliance by the parties with human rights, which have been violated during the conflict.Humanitarian aid groups have been badly constrained in Tigray, with electricity and communications links still cut in the region. The Tigray fighters, who had long dominated Ethiopia’s government and military before a falling-out with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, have demanded the return of services to the region as a condition of any peace negotiations.In a recent case of blocking aid, a 29-truck convoy carrying World Food Program supplies was denied access and had to return to the Amhara region earlier this week, a U.N. humanitarian worker said. The worker spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.A WFP spokesman, Peter Smerdon, told the AP the Tekeze bridge’s destruction “will have an impact, but we are currently assessing how much of an impact and whether there is an alternative route we could use to bring in urgently needed food stocks from Gondar to our warehouses in Shire.”He did not say how soon those Shire warehouses would be empty if a supply route cannot be found. The rainy season now beginning in Tigray will further complicate matters.The cease-fire is limited; Ethiopia’s government has said it will last only until the end of the crucial farming season in Tigray, which means September.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the continent is blasting Europe as Africa struggles amid a crushing third surge of infections, saying Thursday that “not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa.”Strive Masiyiwa also took aim at the global effort meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information including that key donors hadn’t met funding pledges. He didn’t name which donors.“The situation could be very different had we known back in December that ‘Listen, this help is not coming, do for yourselves,’” Masiyiwa told reporters, adding that “many countries were just sitting back saying, ‘the vaccines are coming.’ … We as Africans are disappointed.”Masiyiwa stressed that Africa has purchased 400 million vaccine doses and can buy more, but he challenged donors: “Pay up your money … We will no longer measure pledges, we will measure vaccines arriving at our airports.”The African continent of 1.3 billion people is now in the grip of a third surge of infections that is “extremely aggressive,” the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters. Health officials have described overflowing COVID-19 wards, dangerous oxygen shortages and a growing spread of the virus to extremely vulnerable and unequipped rural areas.Masiyiwa said COVAX had promised to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to Africa by December. But at mid-year, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.“We are very far away from our target,” Nkengasong said. “We don’t want to be seen as the continent of COVID … (In Europe) the stadiums are full of young people shouting and hugging. We can’t do that in Africa.”A spokeswoman for the public health group that manages the U.N.-backed COVAX, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, did not address Masiyiwa’s allegations. She said COVAX publishes a supply forecast “based on best available information,” and said the vaccine shortfall so far this year is because the major COVAX supplier, the Serum Institute of India, diverted production for domestic use.The World Health Organization in a separate briefing said COVID-19 case numbers are doubling in Africa every three weeks and the highly contagious delta variant is driving the new wave of infections.And the Lancet COVID-19 Commission African Task Force made an urgent appeal for at least 300 million vaccine doses so every African country can fully vaccinate at least 20% of its people by the end of August. It said 46% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with about 33% in the European Union and about 40% in China.Nkengasong and Masiyiwa did announce some vaccine progress, saying the first shipments of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer doses based on U.S. support will begin arriving next week. It was not clear how many doses would be in the shipments. Meanwhile, more African-purchased doses will arrive in August, Masiyiwa said.The African continent has had 5.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and has seen a “remarkable” 23% increase in deaths over the past week, the Africa CDC director said.He said the continent needs 1.6 billion doses in a double-dose regime, or 800 million for a single-dose regime, to meet the goal of vaccinating 60% of the population.Masiyiwa gave a frank accounting of where global efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 had sputtered. “It became pretty clear by December that the hope that we would all as a global community buy vaccines together through COVAX was not being adhered to, particularly by the rich and powerful nations,” he said.COVAX aimed to provide 20% of Africa’s vaccine needs, with African nations stepping up for the rest, he said. But “it really doesn’t matter how much money your country has, they couldn’t buy vaccines … I never saw presidents try so hard, calling chief executives.”The African continent has relied on vaccine manufacturing capabilities elsewhere in the world, but the COVID-19 vaccine crisis has jolted African leaders into pursuing their own production.Step by step, Masiyiwa laid out the challenges: Vaccine suppliers require advance purchases, and the World Bank could only lend to countries once vaccines are available. African nations scrambled via the Africa Export-Import Bank, owned by member states, to come up with some $2 billion. African countries created a purchasing platform to improve their buying power.But the vaccines have been hard to find as countries with manufacturing capabilities imposed controls on export sales in the interest of vaccinating their own citizens first. “It was the same whether we were talking to the East, to the West, whatever,” Masiyiwa said. “This has created a massive crisis.”He took aim at Europe: “When we go to talk to their manufacturers, they tell us they’re completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe, we’re referred to India.” But the EU now imposes public health restrictions on people vaccinated with Covishield, the Indian-produced version of the EU-accepted AstraZeneca vaccine.“So how do we get to the situation where they give money to COVAX, who go to India to purchase vaccines, and then they tell us those vaccines are not valid?” Masiyiwa said.Without mentioning the EU issue, COVAX in a statement on Thursday warned against turning away people “protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines,” saying it would “effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide.”Some countries engage in so-called vaccine diplomacy and those bilateral donations are welcome, Masiyiwa said, but they’re not enough to “move the needle.”———Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopia’s government on Wednesday said its military could re-enter the capital of its embattled Tigray region within weeks, calling into question the unilateral cease-fire it declared in Tigray just days ago.Ethiopia also asserted that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, who had been collaborating with Ethiopian forces, had withdrawn from Tigray. That could not immediately be confirmed and Eritrean officials did not respond to questions, but the withdrawal would be another major development in the nearly eight-month war.Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Tigray emergency task force, spoke to reporters in Ethiopia’s first public remarks since its soldiers retreated from the Tigray capital and other parts of the region on Monday in a dramatic turn in the fighting.The Tigray forces that have retaken key areas after some of the war’s fiercest fighting have rejected the cease-fire, telling The Associated Press it was a “sick joke’ and vowing to chase out Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.There will be no negotiations with Ethiopia until communications, transport and other services that have been cut or destroyed for much of the war are restored, the Tigray forces’ spokesman, Getachew Reda, told the AP on Wednesday.“We have to make sure that every inch of our territory is returned to us, the rightful owners,“ Getachew said, adding that Ethiopian forces are still fighting to regain territory and Eritrean forces still control a “significant part” of the region.That contrasted with Redwan’s comment that “the Eritrean army has withdrawn” from Tigray. He didn’t respond to questions for more details. The United States on Tuesday said it had not yet seen a statement from Eritrea saying it was committed to the cease-fire.The situation in Tigray remained “extremely fluid,” the United Nations said, adding that Tigray forces now control the regional capital, Mekele, as well as Shire and the towns of Axum, Adwa and Adigrat.One aid worker told the AP their organization’s internal assessments showed that Eritrean forces had only pulled back to border areas. The aid worker, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, added that “several thousand” Tigray fighters passed through Shire on Wednesday morning, saying they were going to Hitsats to the west to fight.The long-time president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, has long been an enemy of Tigray’s leaders, who for years dominated key positions in Ethiopia’s government and military before being sidelined by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Witnesses have accused the Eritrean soldiers of some of the worst atrocities in the conflict.“We will do anything in our power to make sure that Isaias will never be a threat again,” the Tigray forces’ spokesman said. Eritrea shares a long border with the Tigray region along which it and Ethiopia fought a war in 1998-2000.With the current war likely to continue, the fate of more than 1 million Tigrayans in hard-to-reach areas is in question as Ethiopia and authorities on the ground are accused of blocking access for the delivery of aid. Phone and internet services remain cut.Ethiopia has said it declared the cease-fire in part on humanitarian grounds, but said it would end once the crucial farming season in Tigray is over, which means September.Seeking to explain this week’s dramatic retreat, Ethiopian Lt. Gen. Bacha Debele on Wednesday said the military had to move forces from Tigray to face “bigger threats” and referred to the border, but denied the possibility of a conflict with neighboring Sudan over disputed lands.Some observers expressed concern that the warring sides wouldn’t use this new period to pursue a peaceful resolution in Tigray.“The fear is that the Tigrayan forces are not going to be interested in negotiating, even though they are now in a position of strength,” said Ahmed Soliman, a researcher with Chatham House. “The (Ethiopian) government might also use this period (of rainy season) to regroup and reinforce in anticipation of future conflict. That would be a missed opportunity.”Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the Ethiopian government’s announcement of a unilateral cease-fire “gives us a light glimmer of hope, because we always said there is no solution to any crisis which … is waged by military means.”“There is no solution to this crisis by military means, only a political solution will work,” Nebenzia said. “How that will translate in what is happening in Ethiopia – is it a temporary lull or is it a road which will pave the way to the political settlement? That is a question to be addressed.”———Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The plea arrived from a remote area that had so far produced only rumors and residents fleeing for their lives. Help us, the letter said, stamped and signed by a local official. At least 125 people have already starved to death.Trapped in one of the most inaccessible areas of Ethiopia’s conflict-torn Tigray region, beyond the reach of aid, people “are falling like leaves,” the official said.The letter dated June 16, obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by a Tigray regional health official, is a rare insight into the most urgent unknown of the war between Ethiopian forces backed by Eritrea and Tigray’s former leaders: What’s the fate of hundreds of thousands of people cut off from the world for months?As the United States warns that up to 900,000 people in Tigray face famine conditions in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, little is known about vast areas of Tigray that have been under the control of combatants from all sides since November. With blocked roads and ongoing fighting, humanitarian groups have been left without access.A possible opening emerged this week when Ethiopia’s government announced an immediate, unilateral cease-fire after Tigray fighters re-entered the regional capital and government soldiers fled. An official for the United States Agency for International Development told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that some aid groups were expected to test the cease-fire immediately in an effort to reach remote areas.However, it isn’t clear whether other parties in the conflict, including troops from neighboring Eritrea accused of some of the war’s worst atrocities, will respect the cease-fire. A Tigray spokesman rejected it as a “sick joke” and vowed to fully liberate the region.The letter that reached the regional capital, Mekele, this month from the cut-off central district of Mai Kinetal was just the second plea of its kind, the health official who confirmed it said. The first had been a message from Ofla district reporting 150 deaths from starvation, which the United Nations humanitarian chief shared in a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council in April, bringing an angry response from Ethiopia’s government.But the letter from Mai Kinetal is different, the health official said, offering badly needed, well-compiled data that lay out the devastation line by line: At least 440 people have died, and at least 558 have been victims of sexual violence. More than 5,000 homes have been looted. Thousands of livestock have been taken. Tons of crops have been burned.“There is no access to clean water; electricity, phone communication, banking, health care, and access to humanitarian aid are blocked,” district leader Berhe Desta Gebremariam wrote. “People are unable to move around to save their lives because Eritrean troops completely put us under siege with no transportation, and people are condemned to suffer and die.”Looted farmers in the largely agricultural district have been left without the seeds to grow food, Berhe wrote, warning that without aid 2021 and 2022 will be catastrophic. The one aid delivery to Mai Kinetal that wasn’t blocked was based on a badly outdated 1995 census, meaning half the district’s residents were left out. The aid was later looted by Eritrean troops.Residents had been coming by foot from Mai Kinetal with word that people were starving, the Tigray regional health official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. But the letter confirms the details and extent of the crisis.“It’s so terrible. It’s so terrible,” he said. “We know that people are dying everywhere.”Other unreachable districts remain silent, he said, as phone services are cut in much of Tigray.Asked about Mai Kinetal, a senior U.N. humanitarian official called it “an especially critical area for us to reach” and confirmed to the AP that aid had not made it into the district, and a number of others, since the conflict began.Overall, the U.N. estimates that 1.6 million people remain in Tigray’s hard-to-reach areas, and the U.N. children’s agency last week warned that at least 33,000 severely malnourished children in hard-to-reach areas face the “imminent risk of death” without more aid. But humanitarian workers warn that the situation is especially fluid now amid some of the fiercest fighting yet.Even the unilateral cease-fire announced this week is designed not to last. Ethiopia’s government says it will end once the farming season in Tigray is over, which means September. How needed seeds and other supplies will reach farmers across the region in time is not clear.For Tigrayans with loved ones trapped inside inaccessible areas, the lack of information has meant months of fear and despair.“Every time I get to talk to someone who managed to flee from the area, it’s like a round of pain and shock again and again,” said Teklehaymanot G. Weldemichel, a diaspora Tigrayan from Mai Kinetal. He said his family home there had been shelled at the beginning of the war, and his parents later returned to find every item in the house taken by Eritrean soldiers, even photo albums and frames.One resident who fled to Sudan, Kibreab Fisseha, told the AP that a cousin with diabetes who stayed in Mai Kinetal had died because of lack of food. “Both my parents are still there,” Kibreab said. “They are hiding in the house and I hope they are fine until help comes.”Another Mai Kinetal resident told the AP he has been able to speak with his mother just once since the war began, in a short conversation about a month ago before phone service disappeared again.“I have been calling ever since the war started,” he said, giving only his first name, Tsige, to protect his family. He said his mother described fierce fighting as Eritreans took control of their village and many people fled.Tsige’s father, in his 70s, was among those too old to leave. Eritrean soldiers one day came to the house and asked him to bring them water. He did, and the soldiers later spared him. But other residents who were found during house-to-house searches and suspected of links to the Tigray fighters were killed, Tsige said. Homes abandoned by fleeing families were burned.When another relative refused to hand over his cattle to Eritrean soldiers, they slaughtered him in front of his grandson, Tsige said. In all, he knows at least 11 people in Mai Kinetal who have been killed, including a deaf man in his 70s.“Every day could change the lives of my family,” said Tsige, who is studying in Japan and feels helplessly far away. “I have to prepare for the worst. Every few minutes you think about your family, are they alive?”Tsige is too young to know the famine that ravaged Ethiopia, especially the Tigray region, amid conflict in the 1980s and shocked the world, but he grew up hearing about it from his family. He pleaded for the international community to act and for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to “be a human person” and end the war.“It’s happening now again, and we’re just watching it happen,” Tsige said. “I don’t want to see a documentary filmed after my family has died. I want action now.”
NAIROBI, Kenya — The fighters now retaking parts of Ethiopia’s Tigray region will pursue soldiers from neighboring Eritrea back into their country and chase Ethiopian forces to Addis Ababa ”if that’s what it takes” to weaken their military powers, their spokesman said Tuesday, as a conflict that has killed thousands of civilians looked certain to continue.In an interview with The Associated Press, Getachew Reda said that “we’ll stop at nothing to liberate every square inch” of the Tigray region of 6 million people, nearly eight months after fighting erupted between the Tigray forces and Ethiopian soldiers backed by Eritrea.He rejected the unilateral cease-fire Ethiopia’s government declared Monday as a “sick joke” and accused Ethiopia of long denying humanitarian aid to the Tigrayans it now “pretends to care about.” Ethiopia declared the unilateral cease-fire as its soldiers and hand-picked regional interim administration fled the Tigray regional capital following some of the fiercest fighting of the war.“We want to stop the war as quickly as we can,” the Tigray spokesman said.But he said liberating the region is not just about territory. “If there is still a menace next door,” whether it be in Eritrea, “extremists” from the neighboring Amhara region who have occupied western Tigray or Ethiopian forces, it’s about assuring Tigrayans’ security, he said.The comments were sure to bring new alarm from the United States, United Nations and others who have pressed for an end to the fighting in Africa’s second most populous country that has sent hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans into the world’s worst famine crisis in a decade.This week’s swift turn in the war has left people scrambling to understand the implications for Tigray, as communications links remained largely cut.Eritrean soldiers, accused by witnesses of some of the war’s worst atrocities against Tigrayans, left the towns of Shire, Axum and Adwa, witnesses said, but it was not clear whether the retreat was temporary. The information ministry of Eritrea, a longtime enemy of Tigray’s former leaders and described by human rights groups as one of the world’s most repressive countries, did not immediately respond to questions.“We don’t yet know if they are withdrawing” from Tigray altogether, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Godec told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He said the U.S. had seen no statement from Eritrea saying it was committed to the cease-fire after “what appears to be a significant withdrawal of Ethiopian national defense forces from Tigray.”The Tigray leaders have waged a guerrilla war since November after a political falling out with the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who had sidelined them from influential roles in Ethiopia’s government and military. An Ethiopian military spokesman did not answer the phone Tuesday.The arrival of Tigray forces in the regional capital, Mekele, on Monday was met with cheers. The fighters on Tuesday moved into Axum and Shire, a town that in recent months saw the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing intimidation in western Tigray and is a key staging area for humanitarian aid.Tigray forces are now in control of much of the region after a major counteroffensive with mass popular support, International Crisis Group analyst William Davison said in a statement. They are “now in a position to facilitate access to many previously hard to reach areas,” he said, urging Ethiopia’s government not to sabotage the urgent humanitarian efforts.But the Tigray forces’ talk “indicates how distrustful they are of the cease-fire,” Aly Verjee, a senior adviser at the United States Institute of Peace, told AP. “Of course, I think it’s highly irresponsible for them to say such things. It doesn’t do anything for people on the brink of famine. At the same time, I understand they’re motivated by deep suspicion of Eritrean forces in particular.”Major questions remained about the fate of the more than 1 million civilians that the United Nations has said remain in parts of Tigray that have been hard, if not impossible, to reach with aid. The United States has said up to 900,000 people now face famine conditions, in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade.That famine “is entirely man-made,” the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state said.Sarah Charles, assistant to the administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, told the Washington hearing that the next week or two will be consequential. She urged Ethiopia to lift a “communications blackout” on Tigray and said forces from the Amhara region must lift checkpoints on key roads for aid delivery.U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that “the impact of the current situation on the humanitarian operations in the region remains unknown right now.” Operations have been “constrained for the past few days due to the ongoing fighting.” The airport in Mekele was closed, and routes to deliver aid were not open, he said.Ethiopia has said the cease-fire is in part for the delivery of aid but will last only until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray — which is in September.In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, people said they weren’t sure who to believe amid the battlefield claims, and hoped for peace.“It’s the innocent children, farmers and the poor people that are at the front of the war and are suffering,” resident Biruk Dessalegn said.———Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report
NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopia’s government on Monday declared an immediate, unilateral cease-fire in its Tigray region after nearly eight months of deadly conflict as Tigray forces occupied the regional capital, soldiers retreated and hundreds of thousands of people continue to face the world’s worst famine crisis in a decade.The cease-fire could calm a war that has destabilized Africa’s second most populous country and threatened to do the same in the wider Horn of Africa, where Ethiopia has been seen as a key security ally for the West. It comes as the country awaits the results of national elections that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promoted as the centerpiece of reforms that won him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.Abiy’s transformation from making peace to waging war has appalled many observers since the fighting in Tigray erupted in November. Since then, the world has struggled to access much of the region and investigate growing allegations of atrocities including gang rapes and forced starvation. Thousands of people in the region of 6 million have been killed.Ethiopia’s statement was carried by state media shortly after the Tigray interim administration, appointed by the federal government, fled the regional capital, Mekele, and called for a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds so that desperately needed aid can be delivered.U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he had spoken with the prime minister and “I am hopeful that an effective cessation of hostilities will take place.”Meanwhile, Mekele residents cheered the return of Tigray forces for the first time since Ethiopian forces took the city in late November and Abiy declared victory. The Tigray fighters, loyal to the former regional ruling party that for years dominated Ethiopia’s government before being sidelined by the new prime minister, undermined the declaration by waging a guerrilla war in the region’s rough terrain.As Tigray forces occupied the airport and other key positions in Mekele and broadcast a message telling residents to stop celebrating and go home, retreating Ethiopian soldiers shot at students at Mekele University, killing two and wounding three, said a nurse at Ayder hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.Ethnic Tigrayans, even those who didn’t support the former ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front before the war, say they have been targeted harshly for suspected links with the Tigray fighters. Ethiopia has denied it.But Abiy in an interview aired last week alarmed observers by recalling that aid to Tigray during Ethiopia’s devastating 1980s famine had bolstered the Tigray fighters who eventually overthrew the ruling regime. Such a thing will “never happen” now, he said.Monday’s cease-fire declaration signaled a new approach, at least for a while.The cease-fire “will enable farmers to till their land, aid groups to operate without any military movement around and engage with remnants (of Tigray’s former ruling party) who seek peace,” Ethiopia’s statement said, adding that efforts to bring Tigray’s former leaders “to justice” continue.Ethiopia said the cease-fire will last until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray. The season’s end comes in September. The government ordered all federal and regional authorities to respect the cease-fire — crucial as authorities and fighters from the neighboring Amhara region have been accused of atrocities in western Tigray.“The government has the responsibility to find a political solution to the problem,” the head of the interim administration, Abraham Belay, said in calling for the cease-fire, adding that some elements within Tigray’s former ruling party are willing to engage with the federal government.There was no immediate comment from the Tigray fighters, with whom Ethiopia had rejected talks. And there was no immediate comment from neighboring Eritrea, whose soldiers have been accused by Tigray residents of some of the worst atrocities in the war.“If Abiy has a genuine desire to find a political solution, first he has to undo the terrorist label against the elected government of Tigray,” said Desta Haileselassie Hagos, who leads efforts to compile a list of those killed in the war. Abiy also needs to order the Eritrean soldiers to leave, he said.Tigray in recent days has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict. International pressure on Ethiopia spiked again last week after a military airstrike on a busy market killed more than 60 people, and after Doctors Without Borders said three staffers had been murdered in a separate incident.Amid the upheaval on Monday, the United Nations children’s agency said Ethiopian soldiers entered its office in Mekele and dismantled satellite communications equipment, an act it said violated the world body’s immunity. UNICEF last week warned that at least 33,000 severely malnourished children face “imminent risk of death” without more aid reaching Tigray’s people.