Since reassuming control of Tigray’s capital, Mekele, last month, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has continued to make substantial territorial gains, capturing the strategically important towns of Mai Tsebri, Alamata and Korem.
The offensive comes mere days after Ethiopia’s ruling Prosperity party was declared the victor of last month’s elections, securing a second term for incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Following the gains, TPLF spokesman, Getachew Reda, reaffirmed his group’s desire to liberate “every square inch of Tigray,” adding that “Yesterday [Monday] we launched an offensive in Raya and were able to absolutely rout federal defence forces and Amhara special forces divisions.”
“We have been able to secure most of southern Tigray including Korem and Alamata”
The capture of these towns comes after the federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire in the region several weeks ago. Though proposals were initially deemed a “sick joke” by rebel leaders, they were accepted “in principle”, with strict conditions surrounding the withdrawal of forces from neighbouring Eritrea and Amhara.
“We’ve undertaken a unilateral ceasefire to avoid further conflict, to provide the people with a reprieve during the farming season, and to allow aid operations to proceed without excuse,” the Prime Minister said.
“Even though we knew peace would exact some cost on us, we have taken the peaceful option.”
In a statement released on Twitter, Abiy Ahmed vowed to “defend and repel these attacks by our internal and external enemies, while working to speed up humanitarian efforts,” also urging the people of Ethiopia to “stand together” and “defend the country’s sovereignty” in the face of the rebel offensive.
The humanitarian impact of the war in Tigray cannot be understated, with the UN Human Rights Council recently calling for a verifiable and immediate end to all human rights violations in Tigray.
According to research compiled by the University of Ghent in June, months of fighting in the region has seen at least 2000 killed in more than 150 massacres.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has also stated that a total of 5.2 million people – 91% of Tigray’s population – face acute food insecurity. On Monday, the WFP confirmed that 50 trucks carrying 900 tonnes of relief supplies had arrived in Mekele, but said that: “We need double this number of trucks arriving daily, and we need them to take two days to reach Mekele instead of the four-day journey this time if we are to reach the millions of people in need of life-saving assistance,”
At least 75% of medical facilities in Tigray have also been looted or destroyed as a result of the fighting. “The attacks on Tigray’s health facilities are having a devastating impact on people,” said Oliver Behn, General Director at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF),
“Health facilities and health staff need to be protected during a conflict, in accordance with international humanitarian law. This is clearly not happening in Tigray.”
The recent territorial gains and mobilisation of government forces suggests that there is no end to the conflict in sight. A ceasefire must be agreed upon by all parties immediately in order to prevent the condition of human rights in Tigray from regressing further.