January 21, 2022

Attacks in Afar disrupt aid passage, as promise of peace talks continue

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Artillery fires that have damaged schools, mosques and homes have also blocked aid routes into Tigray Regional State.

Avatar: Kulsma Nur
By Kulsma Nur

Kulsma Nur is a law graduate from Addis Ababa University. Reporter and content producer at Addis Zeybe.

Attacks in Afar disrupt aid passage, as promise of peace talks continue
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Photo Credit: AddisZeybe

Heavy attacks have continued to bombard towns in Afar Regional State, disrupting critical aid supply roads, following recent claims of ceasefire by both government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces. Residents of Abala town, which borders Tigray, have witnessed heavy fire in the area since January 14, even as both warring parties signal interest for peace. This comes weeks following the establishment of the National Dialogue Commission, a measure the government expects will help chart an inclusive way forward for the country. 

Artillery fires that have damaged schools, mosques and homes have also blocked aid routes into Tigray Regional State. Tigray has been cut off from aid supplies since mid-December, due to these roadblocks on the Afar-Abala-Mekelle corridor from the ongoing fighting. 

Local residents that Addis Zeybe spoke with confirmed periodic reports from the Afar Communications Bureau regarding the recent onslaught on the towns in the Region.  

“The [TPLF] soldiers were firing into our town from the mountains,” said Omer Ali, a resident of Abala who was present during the attack on his hometown. “The attacks overwhelmed the Afar region special forces.”

Afar government authorities then called on local residents to join arms as they grew closer to the town according to Omer. 

“Once the residents who had weapons joined the fight, the soldiers were pushed back,” he said. 

This comes weeks after President of TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, stated a public withdrawal of TPLF troops from Amhara and Afar regions as an ‘opening for peace’ and a reinstatement of aid supplies into the region.  

Following that, on January 7, the federal government released TPLF detainees of the war, Sebhat Nega, Kidusan Nega, Abay Woldu, Abadi Zemu, Mulu Gebregziabher and Kiros Hagos, in what it proclaimed was a move towards national dialogue; charges against the detainees were terminated taking into consideration their age and health condition, according to the Ministry of Justice. 

Similarly, charges against other high profile opposition leaders like Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba and Eskinder Nega were terminated in what Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated was executed to maintain the unity and strength of the country.

However, fighting has continued unabated in Abala, killing and injuring civilians, and destroying infrastructure. Following these recent attacks, residents have fled for shelter in nearby woredas, Birhale and Eretu. 

“Afar special forces and local militia and residents are the ones defending the region,” said local resident, Omer. “The Ethiopian national defense force hasn't arrived yet. The Afar regional government and the federal government are paying little attention to what's going on. Maybe, it's because there are talks of peaceful negotiation.'' 

Abala is one hour away from Mekelle, capital of Tigray Region, where airstrikes allegedly carried out by the government have killed over 100 civilians. Food distribution is at its lowest due to the continued fighting as estimated 9.4 million people require humanitarian food aid in Northern Ethiopia according to reports from the WFP, which plans to reach 2.1 million people with food assistance in Tigray; 650,000 in Amhara; and 534,000 in the Afar Region.