Nearly 400 people have died of starvation in Ethiopia's Tigray and Amhara regions in recent months, according to the national ombudsman. It's a rare admission of hunger-related deaths by a federal body—the government normally dismisses famine warnings as "politicking." Despite the lifting in November of a nationwide food aid freeze imposed by USAID and the World Food Program over large-scale government-run food thefts, just 14% of 3.2 million people targeted for food relief in Tigray received rations last month. There have reportedly been technical problems over fitting GPS trackers to food trucks and putting QR codes on ration cards. A lack of money is also an issue: the UN called on donors last month to urgently ramp up funding to avoid a catastrophe in the coming few months in Tigray, Amhara, Afar, Oromia, and southern Ethiopia, where around 4 million people need immediate food aid.
Preliminary peace talks between Ethiopia's federal government and the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have opened on Tanzania's semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. The confidence-building discussions, mediated by Kenya and Norway, are aimed at paving the way for future negotiations to end the five-year conflict. There have been few details on the dialogue, but the OLA said it welcomed a peaceful resolution to the violence in Oromia, which has included civilian massacres and indiscriminate government crackdowns. The OLA, labelled a "terrorist organization" by Addis Ababa, says it's fighting for greater autonomy for the Oromo people, Ethiopia's biggest but historically marginalized ethnic group. Violence has surged in Oromia following a peace deal in November that ended the war in northern Tigray. The OLA is accused of targeting ethnic Amharas who live in Oromia, while militias from the Amhara region—which borders Oromia—have killed Oromo civilians.
The war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region has cooled down since the signing of a peace deal in November. But a separate conflict is intensifying further south, in Oromia, where civilians are suffering as anti-government rebels step up attacks. Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) guerillas were previously confined to the fringes of western and southern Oromia, Ethiopia's largest region. But analysts say the Tigray war created a security vacuum that has helped the OLA expand its long-running insurgency. The security situation is now "fast deteriorating," the UN's aid coordination agency, OCHA, warned in a report last month. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been uprooted and essential services are not functioning in some conflict-affected areas.
More than 200 civilians were killed June 18 at the village of Tole Kebele in the West Wollega zone of Ethiopia's Oromia regional state. The massacre, which targeted members of the Amhara ethnicity, is being blamed by authorities on the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Amhara militias in the region have been cooperating with the official security forces in counterinsurgency operations against the OLA, resulting in reprisal attacks on villages. However, OLA commander Kumsa Dirriba denies that his forces carry out attacks on civilians, claiming that the national army is "solely responsible" for the killings of Amhara civilians in Oromia. Whatever the truth of the matter may be, the dynamic is spreading into neighboring Gambella regional state, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days between the army and joint rebel forces of the OLA and Gambella Liberation Front (GLF), with dozens of civilians among the slain. (Addis Standard, NYT, BBC News, Ethiopia Insight, Ethiopia Insight)
A joint investigation by the independent Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Human Rights Office has found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict in Tigray have, to varying degrees, committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a report published Nov. 3, the Joint Investigation Team details violations and abuses including unlawful killings and extra-judicial executions, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced displacement of civilians.
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.
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.
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.