Ethiopia’s government has declared an immediate “humanitarian truce” with rebel Tigrayan forces to allow aid into the besieged northern region where millions of people are facing starvation.
The government led by the prime minster, Abiy Ahmed, said the ceasefire declared on Thursday could “pave the way for the resolution of the conflict in northern Ethiopia without further bloodshed”, and analysts in the country expressed hopes that if it holds, the deal may lead to a diplomatic resolution.
A 16-month war waged by the government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), combined with a blockade, has led to a severe humanitarian crisis.
About 6 million people in Tigray are “effectively sealed off from the outside world”, according to the UN, and 5 million people, including 500,000 children, are in urgent need of food.
On Thursday, a statement by the government’s communication service declared “an indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately”.
“The government calls upon the donor community to redouble their generous contributions to alleviate the situation and reiterates its commitment to work in collaboration with relevant organisations to expedite the provision of humanitarian assistance to those in need.”
Ethiopia’s government has routinely denied enforcing a blockade on the war-ravaged region, instead blaming Tigrayan forces. Yet the UN, the international community and aid groups have urged the government to allow desperately needed aid through.
Trucks of food aid have not been able to enter Tigray since December last year, leaving the region to rely on far smaller quantities delivered by air. Vehicles have been stuck in the neighbouring region of Afar, where leaders have repeatedly said they would prevent help reaching Tigray. The head of the World Health Organization said earlier this month: “There is nowhere on Earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat.”
Food provisions in Tigray, a largely agricultural region, have been decimated by the war, which began in November 2020 when Ahmed, who received the Nobel peace prize the year before, launched a military offensive against the TPLF.
According to Goitom Gebreluel, a political analyst on Ethiopia and east Africa, Ethiopian forces “systematically destroyed agricultural facilities in Tigray” when the region was occupied last year, before Tigrayan forces rebounded and launched an offensive in other rareas. “Starvation has been used as a weapon of war,” Gebreluel said, adding that the government’s past promises to allow humanitarian aid into Tigray had not been met.
“News like this is welcome and the manner in which it has been stated indicates that there might be something different this time around, but we should be careful of taking this announcement at face value before the trucks start entering into Tigray,” he said.
William Davison, the Ethiopia analyst at the Crisis Group thinktank, said: “At the time of writing, a humanitarian convoy ready to depart from the capital city of Afar region, Semera, has not yet been given the green light by Afar authorities to head to Tigray, despite the federal government’s promises.”
However, expressing optimism that the flow of aid could help resolve the conflict, he said: “The unconditional and unrestricted delivery of aid could also help create enough trust to pave the way for ceasefire talks.”
The statement comes after a visit by the US envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, as the US Congress considers sanctions against the country.
The conflict in Ethiopia has been fought along historical, regional and ethnic faultlines, drawing in forces from Amhara and Afar in Ethiopia, as well as neighbouring Eritrea. Mass atrocities along ethnic lines have taken place on all sides, with many committed by Ethiopia-aligned forces.