Ethiopia Troops Seen Moving Toward Tigray After Truce Agreed

Source: Bloomberg

  • Buses carrying soldiers arrive in Kobo in Amhara state
  • Conflict has left millions of people in need of food aid
Police officers walk near a destroyed military truck in Kemise, Ethiopia, in Dec. 2021.Photographer: Amanuel Sileshi/AFP/Getty Images

By Fasika Tadesse

March 28, 2022, 1:12 PM UTCUpdated on

Hundreds of Ethiopian troops converged on a town near the border of the northern Tigray province, days after the government and rebels from the region agreed to a humanitarian truce after almost 17 months of fighting. 

Over the past few days, 32 buses carrying soldiers were seen in Kobo in Amhara state, south of Tigray, some of whom may be replacing personnel who were being rotated, Addisu Wedajo, the town’s mayor, said by phone. 

While the additional forces may help facilitate the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to be disbursed to millions of people who need it, their presence may also place the truce at risk. 

“Neither the people nor the regional government have adopted the truce,” Addisu said. “There is a fear that we will be at risk if the federal forces move, so everyone is holding their ground.” 

Read: The Misery Behind the Truce in Ethiopia’s Civil War: QuickTake

The agreement reached between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on March 25 is the closest the two sides have come to a cease-fire since since hostilities erupted in November 2020. The government didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the deployment. 

The TPLF won’t do anything that stands in the way of aid deliveries, although it’s closely monitoring troop movements, according to spokesman Getachew Reda.

“At this stage, there is no indication that such movements are meant for securing the road for aid,” he said. “Nor are we particularly at this point worried that the new reinforcements are meant to overrun our positions.” 

Yilikal Kefale, president of the Amhara region, told regional officials on March 22 that the federal government and its regional allies planned to bolster troop numbers.

‘Large Force’

“The Ethiopia National Defense Force is now in training in order to carry this out. It has been engaged in organizing, training and strengthening itself,” he said. “The Amhara region is building a very large force.” 

The fighting erupted when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an incursion into Tigray after troops loyal to regional authorities attacked a federal army base. That followed months of tension stemming from Abiy’s sidelining of the TPLF, which had previously been the nation’s preeminent power broker.

While the government hasn’t disclosed casualties and access to the conflict zone has been restricted, there are fears that tens of thousands of people have died due to fighting, hunger and a lack of medical care. Earlier this month, the United Nations said three quarters of Tigray’s 6 million people were resorting to “extreme coping strategies” to survive and that hunger was also rife in parts of neighboring Amhara and Afar. 

Read: Ethiopia Declares Unilateral Truce in War-Ravaged Tigray

Selamawit Kassa, state minister at the Communications Ministry, said the government and the National Risk Disaster Commission were assessing Tigray’s needs, but no aid had been shipped so far. Under the truce, the government and humanitarian agencies would dispense assistance, she said.

The World Food Programme on Monday welcomed the truce and said it’s on standby to deliver assistance to affected populations across northern Ethiopia as soon as safe and unrestricted access is guaranteed by all parties.

— With assistance by Simon Marks, and Samuel Gebre