Fighting began on Wednesday in northern Ethiopia between government forces and Tigrayan rebels, shattering a five-month truce and undermining peace efforts. Following reports of new offensives, Ethiopia’s air force announced that it had shot down a plane carrying weapons for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the rebels have accused each other of undermining efforts to end the horrific 21-month war in Africa’s second most populous country, and blamed each other for the return to battle.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “profound astonishment” at the fresh fighting and called for an “immediate suspension of hostilities and the restart of peace talks.”
What’s happening now
The March truce halted violence in a battle that began in November 2020, allowing some international aid to Tigray to resume after a three-month hiatus. Both sides have hinted at prospective peace talks in recent weeks.
They disagree, however, on who should lead the negotiations, and the TPLF also requires that essential services be restored to Tigray’s six million residents before dialogue can begin.
The African Union’s Horn of Africa ambassador, Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading the international effort for peace, according to Abiy’s administration, but the rebels want outgoing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to mediate.
In an August 23 statement, TPLF commander Debretsion Gebremichael stated that “two rounds of confidential face-to-face” meetings with top civilian and military authorities had taken place.
How it began
The T.P.L.F. began as a tiny militia battling Ethiopia’s Marxist military rule in the mid-1970s. Tigray, once home to an ancient kingdom that governed Ethiopia and the surrounding region, was ignored by the central government throughout the twentieth century. Tigrayans make up roughly 7% of Ethiopia’s population, whereas the two largest ethnic groups, Oromo and Amhara, account for more over 60%. Nonetheless, the T.P.L.F. emerged as the main force in the rebel alliance that overthrew the Marxist government in 1991.
Tigrayans ruled Ethiopia for the next 27 years, thanks to a ruling coalition led by the T.P.L.F.
Ethiopia evolved as a stable country in a volatile region under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. It experienced rapid economic expansion and allied with the United States in fighting terrorism.
At home, however, the T.P.L.F.-led administration relentlessly suppressed political opponents and restricted free speech. Torture was frequent in government detention facilities. Following Mr. Zenawi’s death in 2012, the T.P.L.F’s hold on power began to deteriorate, resulting in an outbreak of anti-government protests in 2016 that opened the way for Mr. Abiy to become Prime Minister in 2018.
Mr. Abiy, a former T.P.L.F. ally, moved rapidly to rid himself of the old guard. He purged Tigrayan officials from security agencies, accused several with corruption or human rights violations, and formed a new political party in 2019. The Tigrayans declined to participate.
At the same time, he improved connections with Eritrea’s dictatorial leader, President Isaias Afwerki, who harboured a long-held hatred towards the Tigrayans.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military campaign in the country’s northern Tigray area on November 4, 2020, in the hope of defeating the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, his most bothersome political rival. Despite Mr. Abiy’s assurances of a quick campaign, the Ethiopian military was compelled to withdraw from Tigray in June. The combat eventually went south. Tigrayan rebels took control of two towns near Addis Abeba, the country’s capital, in late October. The government declared an emergency and urged residents to arm themselves.
A cease-fire. On March 24, Ethiopia’s government announced a “humanitarian truce” with the rebel troops, citing the plight of thousands of people in Tigray, where food is scarce. The cease-fire has been broken. After weeks of military buildup on both sides of the front line, combat resumed on the Tigray region’s border in August, severing a five-month truce between rebels and the government. Each side accused the other of being the first to fire.