IRIN

Ethiopia: fears of Tigray conflict spread

The war in Ethiopia's Tigray region appears to have entered a dangerous new phase, as Addis Ababa reneged on a unilateral ceasefire July 14. Ethnic militias are now mobilizing from across Ethiopia. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed started to pulled federal troops out of the northern region last month amid a string of battlefield losses to the rebel Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). But he reversed course as the TDF launched a fresh offensive to recapture western lands annexed by neighboring Amhara region during the eight-month conflict. Amhara officials assert that the lands belong to their region, and are calling up a militia force, risking a widening ethnic conflict. Also entering the fray are forces from Oromia (Abiy's home region), Sidama, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities & Peoples (SNNP) region. Escalation now seems inevitable in a war that has already left hundreds of thousands facing famine.

France announces Sahel drawdown

France is to reduce its forces battling jihadists in the Sahel—a seven-year deployment that has failed to stem the violence, and which has proved increasingly unpopular both in the region and domestically. President Emmanuel Macron said on June 10 there would be a "profound transformation" of its Operation Barkhane, with France relying more on special forces, air power, and cooperation with allies. The details of the plan will be finalized by the end of June, he added. France has suffered a recent setback in the Sahel with the death of its close ally, Chadian leader Idriss Déby, and an increasingly complicated relationship with Mali—the focus of Barkhane's 5,100-strong intervention. Earlier this month, Paris suspended joint military operations with Malian forces after a second coup. Macron has also refused to support moves by some Sahelian countries to open negotiations with jihadists, and has suggested that African partners have not pulled their weight in the counter-insurgency fight—a conflict widely seen as militarily unwinnable.

Abuses, aid blocking continue in Ethiopia

International pressure on parties to the conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region is building, but abuses of civilians and aid blockages and looting continue. The United States and the EU have continued to pause some non-emergency aid to Ethiopia. The UK government should consider pursuing UN sanctions against individuals "found to be obstructing the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies and using starvation as a weapon of war," according to a parliamentary committee. The Eritrean military remains in Tigray, and is accused of looting and abuses despite a pledge by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed a month ago that its forces would pull back. The AFP news agency obtained documents from Tigray's Abiy-appointed interim government describing harassment of aid workers and looting of supplies by Eritrean troops. Meanwhile, AP reported the rounding up and detention of thousands of Tigrayans, amounting to a purge of the military and civil service on grounds of ethnicity. The UN says 90% of displaced people have still not received help with shelter, and a major road into the region was blocked by hostilities for 12 days.

Somalia: drought compounds political crisis

The political heat is rising in Somalia over the determination of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, to cling to power despite his term having ended in February. On April 12, he embraced a decision by the lower house of the Federal Parliament to extend his (and their) stay in office for an extra two years, to allow the running of delayed elections. The move was rejected by the Senate as "unconstitutional. The Senate called on Farmajo to rejoin UN-led talks—which he has rejected. As the crisis deepens, there are reports of a troop build-up in the capital and the fragmentation of the security forces. Yet this political tussle is being played out in the Mogadishu bubble. In the countryside, where the government holds little sway, a new drought emergency is underway. Almost 40,000 people have been forced from their homes in the first three months of the year due to poor rains, joining the 1.3 million displaced in 2020 by combined humanitarian disasters. Another bad rainy season is forecast for April-June, but donor funding is roughly $1 billion short of the appeal target.

Afghan pullout: unanswered questions for civilians

Afghanistan now has a clearer timeline for when US and international troops will leave, but the questions surrounding what this means for civilians and aid operations in the country remain the same. US President Joe Biden on April 14 confirmed plans to withdraw American forces before Sept. 11—the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that led to the Afghanistan invasion. NATO also said 9,500 international soldiers—including 2,500 US troops—would leave, beginning May 1. But the implications of the pullout are as volatile as they were when Biden's predecessor first inked a peace deal with the Taliban last year. Will the Taliban pursue a decisive military victory or continue with sporadic peace negotiations with the government? How will women and minorities fare? How will this affect local and international aid operations, and the roughly 16 million Afghans—more than 40% of the population—who rely on humanitarian relief? Will there be a future for reconciliation after decades of war? And what about the militias still active in many areas? More than 1,700 civilians were killed or injured in conflict in the first three months of 2021, the UN said the same day as Biden's announcement.

Northern Mexico: aid efforts struggle to keep pace

Humanitarian response networks in northern Mexico are stretched thin between the growing number of people fleeing violence, poverty, and climate disasters in Central America, the continued expulsion of asylum seekers and migrants who enter the United States irregularly, and the lingering effects of Trump-era migration policies.

Outrage over French air-strike in Mali

A French airstrike killed 19 civilians attending a wedding celebration in a remote central Malian village, according to an investigation by the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA. The report based its findings on hundreds of interviews, satellite images, and evidence gathered from a trip to Bounti, the village hit by the Jan. 3 strike. The French defense ministry rejected the report, maintaining the casualties were Islamist militants. French troops were hailed as heroes by many Malians when they drove out militant groups from major towns in the country's desert north in 2013. But criticism has grown as a more than 5,000-strong regional counter-insurgency force—called Operation Barkhane—has failed to prevent the militants from regrouping and expanding across West Africa's Sahel. Despite some recent battlefield gains, the operation is drawing increasing comparisons to the US war in Afghanistan.

New Libyan government: progress for women

Libya's Government of National Accord officially handed power over to a new interim government in Tripoli on March 16, the day after Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh's cabinet was sworn in by the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk. This is the fruit of a long and complicated UN-led process with multi-track negotiations. The new leadership faces multiple challenges, including holding elections and restoring much-needed government services. It also needs to unite a country that has largely been in chaos since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi, helped by NATO's decision (exactly 10 years ago) to intervene. The new cabinet contains five women, including the ministers of foreign affairs and justice. Together they make up 15% of the leadership—not the 30% delegates to the UN process had promised. But many Libyan women are viewing this as at least a step in the right direction.

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