Fighting erupts along the border of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Fighting between forces from the northern Ethiopian rebel region of Tigray and central government forces has erupted around the town of Kobo, ending a months-long ceasefire, residents and two sides said on Wednesday.

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, the party that controls Tigray.

Each side blamed the other for the outbreak of the fighting.

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“At five o’clock this morning, the TPLF attacked the eastern front from the direction of Bisober, Zobel and Tekulci…effectively violating the ceasefire,” the state communications service said in a statement.

The day before, when allegations of troop movement were ignited by social media, the military accused Tigrayan forces of preparing to attack and covering their tracks by spreading false news about military movements.

“It has become a secret that they (the TPLF) are carrying out a campaign to criminalize our army,” the statement said, accusing the TPLF of fomenting “pre-conflict propaganda.”

In turn, the military leadership of Tigray forces accused the government of violating the ceasefire, saying in a statement that it believed the attack near Kobo, south of Tigray, was a diversion and its forces expected a major attack from the west.

In his statement to the international community, “the peace process is going to fail”, the leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Depreciation Gebremichael said, accusing the government of trying to obstruct investigations into war crimes, withholding basic services, and imposing a siege on the region.

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A government spokesman did not respond to a letter seeking comment, but the government has repeatedly said it is not besieging Tigray. Ethiopia has attempted to block funding for a UN investigation into the abuses.

Three residents around Kobo reported that they heard heavy weapons from the early morning. They also said that there have been movements of Ethiopian soldiers, Amhara special forces and Fano militia volunteers in the past two days.

They said they did not know who started the fight. Reuters was not immediately able to obtain information about the movements of the Tigrayan forces. Telephone communications within Tigray have been disrupted for more than a year.

Radwan Hussein, the prime minister’s national security adviser, said the Ethiopian army had shot down a plane carrying weapons to Tigray that had entered Ethiopian airspace from neighboring Sudan. He did not say where the plane was shot down.

The statement was a “blatant lie,” Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the TPLF, said in a tweet. A Sudanese military spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Fighting in Africa’s second most populous country has displaced millions of people, pushed parts of Tigray into starvation and killed thousands of civilians.

long war

The war broke out in Tigray in November 2020 and spread to the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions a year ago. Last November, Tigrayan’s forces raced towards Addis Ababa, but were pushed back by a government offensive that month.

A ceasefire was announced in March after the two sides fought a bloody stalemate and the government declared a humanitarian truce, allowing much-needed food aid to enter the region.

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In June, Abiy’s government set up a negotiating committee with the Tigray Liberation Front, and earlier this month the government said it wanted talks “without preconditions”. The Tigray government has called for services to be restored to civilians before the talks begin, a call echoed by diplomats. Read more

Tigray has been without banking and communications since the army withdrew at the end of June. Fuel imports are restricted, limiting aid distribution.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said Tigrayan forces had seized 12 fuel tanks from a warehouse in Mekelle. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front could not be reached for comment.

The United Nations said nearly 90% of the region’s population needed aid, warning that malnutrition rates were “significantly high” and that the situation would worsen until the October harvest.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday called for a ceasefire, peace talks, full access to humanitarian aid and the re-establishment of public services in Tigray.

The US State Department called on the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front to redouble efforts to advance talks for a permanent ceasefire.

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Reporting from the newsroom in Nairobi; Additional reporting by Daphne Psalidakis in Washington. Editing by Nick McPhee, Frank Jack Daniel and Leslie Adler

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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