Ethiopia and Tigray rebels resume hostilities, break truce

Ceasefire breaks down five months after agreement reached between the two sides

AP/BEN CURTIS  -   Ethiopian authorities on 24 August 2022 accused Tigray rebels of launching a new offensive against federal forces in the north of the country

The Ethiopian government and rebels in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, who have been fighting a war since 2020, resumed hostilities today and blamed each other for breaking a truce declared last March.

In a statement, the Armed Forces of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that ruled the region when the armed conflict broke out, accused the Ethiopian army of starting a "broad offensive" today in southern Tigrayan territory with the support of special troops and militias from the neighbouring Amhara region.

According to the TPLF, the central executive "has escalated the genocidal war against the people of Tigray through its blatant violation of the cease-fire agreement that has been in force for a few months".

However, the Ethiopian government's Communication Service responded with another statement in which it claimed that the TPLF "launched an attack this morning" in southern Tigray.

"They officially violated the ceasefire with their actions. Both their attack and the subsequent statement indicate that they were preparing for provocation," the government said, adding that the Ethiopian army is countering the offensive.

EFE has not been able to verify the veracity of the two versions due to the restricted access to Tigray, although there have been testimonies from neighbours of the affected area who claim to have heard artillery fire.

The resumption of hostilities marks the end of the "indefinite humanitarian truce" declared last March by the government and the rebels' commitment to a "cessation of hostilities" if aid arrives.

It is also a blow to attempts to start peace talks between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government and the TPLF.

The International Crisis Group's senior think tank analyst for Ethiopia, William Davison, said today that "all parties must stop their ongoing military operations around southern Tigray" before they become "a return to full-blown war".

"This serious breach of the truce agreed earlier this year demonstrates the need for the two sides to organise unconditional face-to-face negotiations as soon as these hostilities cease," Davison added.

On 2 May, the EU and US special envoys for the Horn of Africa, Annette Weber and Mike Hammer, respectively, met with TPLF leader and Tigrayan President Debretsion Gebremichael in Mekele, the regional capital, to call for a dialogue to end the conflict.

The envoys agreed that "a rapid restoration of electricity, telecommunications, banking and other basic services in Tigray is essential for the people of Tigray" and encouraged the start of an African Union-sponsored dialogue.

The TPLF demands a number of preconditions, including the restoration of basic services in the region, in order to move peace negotiations forward.

The emissaries' trip came after the Ethiopian prime minister's security adviser, Redwan Hussien, said the government "is ready" for talks with the rebels "anytime, anywhere".

"Talks must begin without preconditions in a process led by the African Union," Redwan said.

The war began on 4 November 2020, when Abiy ordered an offensive against the TPLF in response to an attack on a federal military base and escalating political tensions.

Thousands of people have died and some two million have been forced from their homes due to the violence.