Fighting erupts along border of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region
NAIROBI, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Fighting between forces from Ethiopia's rebellious northern region of Tigray and central government forces has erupted around the town of Kobo, residents and both sides said on Wednesday, ending a months-long ceasefire.
The fighting is a major blow to hopes for peace talks between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that controls Tigray.
Both sides have blamed each other for the outbreak of fighting.
“At 5am today (the TPLF) has attacked on the Eastern Front; from Bisober, Zobel and Tekulshe direction. By carrying out such measure, it has effectively broken the ceasefire,” the government’s communications service said in a statement.
The military command of the Tigrayan forces accused the government of violating the ceasefire, saying in a statement it believed the southern attack was a diversion and their forces expected a major attack from the west.
Three residents reporting hearing heavy weapons since early morning. They also said there had been movement of Ethiopian soldiers, Amhara special forces and volunteer Fano militia in the past two days.
They said they did not know who had started the fighting. Reuters could not immediately get information on the movements of Tigrayan forces. Telephone connections inside Tigray have been down for more than a year.
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu, military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane, Amhara regional spokesman Gizachew Muluneh and the prime minister’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum did not respond to requests for comment.
The fighting in Africa’s second most populous nation has displaced millions of people, pushed parts of Tigray into famine and killed thousands of civilians.
War erupted in Tigray in November 2020 and spilled into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara a year ago. Last November, Tigrayan forces marched towards Addis Ababa, but were driven back by a government offensive in November.
A ceasefire was announced in March after both sides fought to a bloody stalemate and the government declared a humanitarian truce, allowing badly needed food aid into the region.
In June, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government formed a committee to negotiate with the TPLF and earlier this month the government said it wanted talks “with no preconditions”. Tigray’s government has called for the restoration of services to civilians before talks begin.
Tigray has been without banking and communication services since the military pulled out at the end of June. Imports of fuel are restricted, limiting the distribution of aid.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said in a report last week that since April 1 only 20% of the fuel needed to distribute humanitarian supplies had entered Tigray.
Almost 90% of people in the region need aid, the United Nations said, warning rates of malnutrition had “skyrocketed” and the situation was expected to get worse until October’s harvest.
There is also shortages of some medical equipment and many drugs to treat common diseases like visceral leishmaniasis, say doctors at Ayder Referral Hospital, the biggest hospital in Tigray.
Health minister Lia Tadesse said that there was a shortage of the medicine used to treat visceral leishmaniasis nationwide but that available stocks were “being processed to be sent to Tigray.”
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie)