ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: The first aid convoy in three months reached Ethiopia’s war-stricken Tigray region on Friday, the UN said, a week after the government and Tigrayan rebels agreed to a conditional humanitarian truce. The UN’s World Food Programme said on Twitter that 13 trucks had “arrived safely” in Tigray’s capital Mekele, adding: “More trucks & fuel will follow in morning.”
The 17-month war between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has created a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, with millions of people in need. The UN agency said its convoy that travelled from the neighbouring region of Afar to Tigray was carrying more than 500 tonnes of food “for communities on (the) edge of starvation”.
“Good progress, much more needed — we need daily convoys flowing in safely to meet the needs of 5 million people,” it said. It is the first such convoy to reach Tigray since December and follows the declaration last week by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government of an indefinite humanitarian truce, while the TPLF agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” if aid arrived.
The region has been under what the UN has described as a de facto blockade, and suffering for many months without basic services such as electricity, telecommunications, internet and banking. The war has driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine, displaced more than two million people and left more than nine million in need of food aid, according to the UN.
‘One good step’
“This is one good step in the right direction,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter, announcing 20 trucks had arrived in rebel-controlled territory. “The bottom line, though, isn’t about how many trucks are allowed but whether there is a system in place to ensure unfettered humanitarian access for the needy!”
Friday’s development comes just days after both sides accused each other of blocking an aid convoy headed for Tigray, which has not seen any humanitarian supplies arrive by road since December 15. Nearly 40 percent of Tigray’s six million inhabitants face “an extreme lack of food”, the UN said in January, with fuel shortages forcing aid workers to deliver medicines and other crucial supplies sometimes by foot.
Since mid-February, humanitarian operations in the region have been virtually halted due to local shortages of fuel, food and cash, according to the UN. Ethiopia had announced Thursday that 21 vehicles carrying relief supplies had started moving through Afar towards Tigray. “The government of Ethiopia reaffirms its commitment to work closely with stakeholders to ensure the full delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need,” it said.
A humanitarian source said the trucks had been blocked on Thursday evening by regional forces in Afar but was able to resume its journey on Friday. The convoy’s passage comes after the US charge d’affaires in Ethiopia, Tracey Jacobson, travelled to Afar this week and met regional president Awol Arba.
The United States has accused Abiy’s government of preventing aid from reaching those in need, while the authorities in turn have blamed the rebels for the obstruction. “This is an important step toward implementing the cessation of hostilities,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, urging all parties “to sustain the delivery of life-saving assistance.” Both warring sides in the conflict have issued demands in connection with the truce. The government has called on the rebels to “desist from all acts of further aggression and withdraw from areas they have occupied in” the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
The rebels have in turn urged the Ethiopian authorities “to go beyond empty promises and take concrete steps to facilitate unfettered humanitarian access” to Tigray. The government previously declared a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray in June last year, after the TPLF mounted a shock comeback and retook the region from federal forces before expanding into Amhara and Afar.
The fighting intensified in the second half of 2021 before reaching a stalemate. The rebels at one point claimed to be within 200 kilometres (125 miles) of the capital Addis Ababa. The conflict erupted in November 2020 when Nobel Peace laureate Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, the region’s former ruling party, saying the move came in response to rebel attacks on army camps. Thousands of people have died, while accounts have emerged of atrocities including massacres and mass rapes, with both sides accused of human rights violations. – AFP