The denial of access to Tigray by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments is behind the confusion. Reporters can go right up to the front lines in Ukraine to witness what the Russian invasion has done: this is impossible for journalists trying to cover the Tigray war.
However, some facts seem clear, although there is – as usual – confusion about exactly where the fighting is taking place and who is involved.
- On 31 July the US envoy for the Horn of Africa called for progress in holding Ethiopian peace talks and for unrestricted aid deliveries to stricken areas of the country. Mike Hammer, who arrived in Addis Ababa, held talks with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
- Hamer’s intervention was the latest of several, but the sides were too far apart to make progress. The Ethiopian government wanted talks without conditions, led by the African Union. The government of Tigray wanted talks led by Kenya, and insisted on pre-conditions, including the guaranteeing of Tigray’s pre-war borders, the lifting of the blockade of Tigray, the removal of all foreign forces, and that negotiations should be held in public.
- During the past few days there have been reports of Ethiopian force deployments close to Tigray. The Horn analyst, Rashid Abdi warned a week ago: “Expect a resumption of full-scale war in Ethiopia. Multiple probing attacks by ENDF on TDF positions on number of fronts this week.”
- On 21 August the Ethiopian government made a strongly worded attack on Tigray, accusing their government of failing to work towards peace.
- On 22 August the Tigray spokesman, Getachew Reda, issued clearly worded argument explaining why the African Union was an unacceptable peace broker.
- Meanwhile, reports emerged of the Eritrean government conducting fresh round-ups of young people in areas bordering on Tigray.
- On 24 August the Tigray authorities issued a military statement saying that a fresh assault had been carried out by the Ethiopian army, Amhara Special Forces and Fano militia.
- The Ethiopian government issued a statement on 24 August saying that “the TPLF has launched attack in Eastern Front in violation of ceasefire and defiance of the ongoing peace efforts…[Tigray] launched an open attack in the Eastern front particularly in Bisober, Zobil and Tekulesh directions since 5:00 AM in early morning. The National Defence Forces and all security forces are countering the attack by the TPLF in a coordinated manner.”
- The Tigrayan authorities released a statement on 24 August, sent to world leaders the day before, which revealed that two face-to-face rounds of negotiations had been conducted with the Ethiopian government. Rashid Abdi says “Tigray admits holding two secret talks with Abiy government – one in Djibouti, another in Seychelles.”
- The Ethiopian government says it shot down a Tigrayan aircraft apparently attempting to fly arms from Sudan into Tigray. “According to Maj.-Gen Tesfaye Ayalew, the airplane was heading to Tigray carrying arms intended to terrorist TPLF in the sky over North of Humera at last night at 10:00 PM while shot down by the Air Force.”
- A report of heavy fighting in Zobel mountains to the east and Amora Gedel mountain to the west of Kobo town in Amhara region. Kobo will become vulnerable if TDF took control of these high places in eastern & western directions.
What we do not know if this is a full-scale resumption of the war and if it is whether Eritrean and Afar forces will be involved. Might Tigray use the opportunity to launch an all-out attempt to take Western Tigray, so as to give it a land corridor through to Sudan? We just don’t know.