Ben Curtis / AP
NAIROBI, Kenya – Ethiopia’s government declared an immediate and unilateral ceasefire Monday in its Tigray region after nearly eight months of deadly conflict when Tigray fighters occupied the regional capital and government soldiers withdrew in a region. where hundreds of thousands are suffering the worst in the world. hunger crisis.
The ceasefire could defuse a war that has destabilized Africa’s second most populous country and threatens to do the same in the broader 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 the national elections that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promoted as the centerpiece of the reforms that earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
Abiy’s transformation from making peace to making war has dismayed many observers since fighting broke out in Tigray in November. Since then, the world has struggled to access much of the region and investigate the growing allegations of atrocities, including gang rape and forced starvation. Thousands of people in the region of 6 million have died.
Ethiopia’s statement was broadcast by state media shortly after the federally appointed interim Tigray administration fled the regional capital of Mekele and called for a humanitarian ceasefire so that aid could be delivered. desperately needed.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he had spoken with the prime minister and that “I am hopeful that there will be an effective cessation of hostilities.”
Meanwhile, Mekele residents applauded the return of Tigray forces for the first time since Ethiopian troops took the city in late November and Abiy declared victory. Tigray fighters, loyal to the former regional ruling party that for years dominated Ethiopia’s government before being marginalized by the new prime minister, undermined the statement by waging guerrilla warfare in the region’s rugged 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 fired at Mekele University students, killing two and wounding three, said a nurse from Ayder’s hospital, who spoke. on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
The ceasefire will last until September, the end of the planting season.
Ethnic Tigrayans, even those who did not support the former Tigray People’s Liberation Front before the war, say they have come under heavy fire for alleged links to Tigray fighters. Ethiopia has denied it.
But Abiy, in an interview broadcast last week, alarmed observers by recalling that aid to Tigray during Ethiopia’s devastating famine in the 1980s had bolstered Tigray fighters who ultimately toppled the ruling regime. Such a thing “will never happen” now, he said.
Monday’s ceasefire declaration marked a new approach, at least for a time.
Ben Curtis / AP
The ceasefire “will allow farmers to cultivate their land, help groups to operate without any military movement and engage with remnants (of the former ruling Tigray party) who are seeking peace,” the Ethiopian statement said, adding that Efforts to bring former Tigray leaders “to justice” continue.
Ethiopia said the ceasefire will last until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray. The end of the season comes in September. The government ordered all federal and regional authorities to respect the ceasefire, crucial as authorities and fighters from the neighboring Amhara region have been accused of atrocities in western Tigray.
“The government has a responsibility to find a political solution to the problem,” said the head of the interim administration, Abraham Belay, calling for a ceasefire, adding that some elements within the former ruling Tigray party are willing to compromise with government. 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 of the war.
“If Abiy has a genuine desire to find a political solution, he first has to undo the label of terrorist against the elected government of Tigray,” said Desta Haileselassie Hagos, who is leading efforts to compile a list of those killed in the war. Abiy must also order the Eritrean soldiers to leave, he said.
Tigray in recent days has seen some of the fiercest fighting in the conflict. International pressure on Ethiopia soared again last week after a military airstrike in a crowded market killed more than 60 people, and after Doctors Without Borders said three staff members had been killed in a separate incident.
Amid Monday’s turmoil, the UN children’s agency said Ethiopian soldiers entered its Mekele office and dismantled satellite communications equipment, an act it said violated the world body’s immunity. UNICEF warned last week that at least 33,000 severely malnourished children face “imminent risk of death” with no further aid reaching the town of Tigray.
At the UN headquarters in New York, the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland convened an emergency open meeting of the Security Council. The most powerful UN body has discussed Tigray behind closed doors, but not in open session. They need the support of nine of the 15 council members to hold an open meeting.