Eritrean troops have re-entered the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray—a region they had largely vacated in June under military pressure from the rebel Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The new Eritrean deployment, in support of the Ethiopian government, is reportedly to the contested western part of Tigray, around the towns of Adi Goshu and Humera—a target for the TPLF. The United States has demanded the withdrawal of all Eritrean forces from Ethiopia and on Aug. 23 imposed sanctions on Eritrea's top general, Filipos Woldeyohannes, for "despicable acts" of rights violations. While much of Tigray has been declared "fully" accessible for aid deliveries, fighting in Afar province—a key supply route—between the government and TPLF has blocked aid getting into Tigray itself. Since July 15, only some 320 trucks have entered the region, a fraction of the cargo required to meet the humanitarian needs of at least 5.2 million people, according to the UN relief agency, OCHA.
Despite hopes for a ceasefire in Tigray region last month, the Ethiopian conflict is expanding. The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the main rebel group in the country's largest region, Oromia, warned on Aug. 14 that it is close to cutting off a major highway to Kenya—a move that could disrupt trade with the largest economy in East Africa. Having announced a pact with the government's arch-adversary, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the OLA claims it is advancing on the western and southern fronts of Oromia region, and holds parts of the southern Borena zone bordering Kenya. Meanwhile, as the humanitarian crisis deepens and Tigrayan rebels push on into Amhara and Afar regions, there has been a relaunch of diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting. US special envoy Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Ethiopia last weekend, and Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok—rebuffed once by Addis Ababa—said he is still willing to mediate. Sudan, however, has its own dispute with Ethiopia over the contested al-Fashaga border region—an issue Khartoum reiterated is non-negotiable.
At least three people are dead following an outbreak of inter-communal violence in Djibouti on Aug. 1. Fighting erupted in several areas between members of the Afar ethnic group, which straddles Djibouti's borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Issa, the country's other main ethnicity, which is a sub-group of the Somali people and straddles the borders with Ethiopia and Somalia. Issa protesters blocked the rail line and road connecting Djibouti's port to Ethiopia, a key artery for the landlocked Horn of Africa giant. The violence came in response to a deadly attack on Somali Issa civilians four days earlier within Ethiopia. Militia fighters from Ethiopia's Afar region raided the town of Gedamaytu (also known as Gabraiisa) in neighboring Somali region, reportedly killing hundreds of residents. The two regions have long been at odds over three contested kebeles (districts) on their shared border, which are predominately inhabited by Issa but located within the regional boundaries of Afar. (Garowe Online, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, ReliefWeb)
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.
Ethiopia's federal government announced a ceasefire in Tigray region on July 2. The Ethiopian National Defense Force and the federally-recognized Provisional Tigray Administration left Tigray's capital Mekelle as part of the ceasefire, pausing eight months of war. The Tigray Defense Force, loyal to the ousted regional government and now in rebellion, has not agreed to the government's ceasefire. Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political & Peacebuilding Affairs, said "we urge the TDF to endorse the ceasefire immediately and completely."
In Episode 70 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Daniel Woldu, US representative of Omna Tigray, an international network calling for action to halt the genocide in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Woldu discusses the abrogation of Tigray's self-rule under the Ethiopian regime of Abiy Ahmed, atrocities that have taken place under cover of an information blockade imposed on the region, the ongoing plunder and weaponization of humanitarian aid, why Eritrea has intervened on the side of the Ethiopian central government, and the urgent need for accountability and an independent investigation into war crimes and genocide. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
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.
At least 29 were killed, including women and children, when gunmen attacked a church at Debos Kebele, a village in Horo Guduru zone of Ethiopia's Oromia regional state on March 5. Local residents were gathered in the church to celebrate the start of the two-month Lent fast by followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo rite. The massacre was the bloodiest in a wave of attacks on residents of the Amhara ethnicity in the region over the past months. The National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) blames the attacks on the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), but also accuses the central government of complicity. NaMA said that at rallies in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the region, Amhara are stigmatized and referred to by the pejorative "neftegna"—meaning "rifleman" or "musketeer," a reference to armed settlers in Oromia under the Amhara-dominated Abyssinian monarchy.