News Highlights Extra No. 9: Conflict in the Horn

EEPA is sending extra news highlights on the conflict in the Horn of Africa: previous highlights extra and EEPA’s situation reports on the Horn crisis.

Almost 100 days since the start of the conflict
The 12th of February marks a hundred days since the start of the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia. The conflict has left 4.5 million people in acute need of humanitarian assistance, with large parts of Tigray having now entered a stage 4 phase emergency regarding food security, one stage ahead of famine. An estimated 52.000 civilians have been killed and 20.000 Eritrean refugees under international protection are missing, after two refugee camps, Hitsats and Shimelba, were systematically destroyed. 10.000 refugees have allegedly been forcibly returned to Eritrea. Large parts of Tigray are under control of Eritrean soldiers. 

Possible that money was exchanged for presence of Eritrean troops
Multiple international actors, including the US and the EU, have urged Eritrean troops to withdraw from Tigray. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports indicate that possible payments and weapons were provided by the Ethiopian government in an agreement with Eritrean president Esayas Afewerki for the engagement of Eritrean soldiers in Tigray. The total amount of the payment named is USD 1 billion. That would include military equipment and complete availability of Eritrean soldiers in fighting alongside the Ethiopian army. Payments would have been transferred in two different tranches of USD 500 million. It has been reported that when the National Security director of Eritrea visited Addis Ababa, the visit was aiming to request the second part of the payment for allowing the “final offensive” in Tigray by Eritrean troops. It is reported that fights between Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers a few weeks ago were caused by differences in the division of weapons between the two parties in the alliance. This led to the deaths of many soldiers by both sides. 

Food and humanitarian aid in Tigray
The Ethiopian Red Cross stated on Wednesday 10 February that 80% of Tigray is unreachable. Ethiopian Red Cross president Abera Tola also stated that displaced persons who managed to reach help were emaciated upon arrival. On Tuesday 9 February, the United Nations (UN) released a statement on access to humanitarian aid in Tigray, indicating that a “first step” forward was made regarding clearance of aid workers on standby in Addis Ababa. Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, said during a press briefing with journalists that: “[t]his clearance is a first step towards ensuring that aid workers in Tigray can deliver […] the response given the rapidly rising needs in the region”. This includes 25 international staff to provide humanitarian assistance in the Tigray region. The UN says that 60 more aid workers in Addis Ababa are awaiting approval to enter Tigray but have not had permission. The deal falls under the previous agreement with the government, which provides aid only to areas under government control. A statement by the World Food Programme (WFP) noted it would provide emergency food supplies for up to one million people in Tigray. He noted that “armed escorts for humanitarian cargo and personnel will be undertaken as a last resort” while many rural areas remain without connections. Beasley commented on the current situation with a Twitter post, underlining how: “nearly 3 million people need our help NOW and we have no time to waste.”

Protests break out in Mekelle as religious delegation arrives
At least one person has died of gunshot wounds after protests broke out in Mekelle following the arrival of a delegation of religious leaders, reports AFP. The delegal from the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia came for a ‘peace conference’ and to discuss humanitarian aid; the delegation included Daniel Kibret, a political advisor of Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed.

Military situation and civilian casualties
Fighting continues in the Tigray region between various parties, including the Tigray regional forces, the Ethiopan National Defence Forces and the Eritrean forces. It is reported that the Eritrean army crossed the border at Agew and killed civilians in Addi Awso near Samre. Further images and videos have emerged of destruction and killings, including disturbing footage published of an execution of young men on 5-6 January in western Tigray, in an area called Debre Aba,  ​published by Tghat. A witness report covering two months of the war published in Ethiopia Insight states that “initially, the soldiers were primarily on the main roads. (..) But soon enough, no village,  no matter how remote or difficult to reach would escape the wrath of the occupying forces.” 

International concerns over atrocities
The European Union (EU) joins the United States (US) in calling for Eritrea to withdraw its troops from Ethiopia. The EU also expresses its concerns over the humanitarian crisis expanding in the Tigray region, stressing that humanitarian aid and assistance must be ensured and allowed to reach everyone in distress. On Thursday 11 February, the European Parliament will discuss the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia in the plenary session, which will include the European Commission. Meanwhile, United Kingdom opposition leader, Keir Starmer, urges British government to take Tigray war to UN Security Council. Furthermore, Ms. Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, has voiced deep concern about the escalation of ethnic violence in Ethiopia and stated that the risk of atrocity crimes remains high. Experts call on the US to intensify its action and coordinate with the EU and the African Union (AU), and they suggest that incoming US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Linda Thomas-Greenfield, could push the UN Emergency Directors to meet and declare Tigray an “L3 Emergency” – highest level of urgency that enables the UN humanitarian agencies to quickly mobilize staff and resources. Meanwhile, it is reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is evacuating its base in Assab, Eritrea, from where it engaged in the war in Tigray

Regional situation
On Sunday 7 February, the Special European Envoy and Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, landed in Sudan for monitoring the current situation with Ethiopia. He visited Khartoum on 7 and 8 February for meetings with Abdalla Hamdok, Sudanese prime minister, among others. Haavisto aims to relieve tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia and to see how the international community could provide support to the current crises facing the region. Tensions between the two countries include the GERD Dam and the border dispute. About the GERD Dam, Ethiopia’s decision of further filling the dam without reaching a deal with Sudan and Egypt is considered by Sudan as a “direct threat to national security” for half the population in central Sudan, as well as for irrigation water for agricultural projects. Furthermore, tension is increasing in recent weeks by the fights occurring along the Al-Fashaqa border region between Sudanese troops and Ethiopian farmers living there. Since December, when the deployment of troops along the border led to 4 dead and 20 injured, “[b]oth sides have [added] tanks and heavy weapons […] accusing each other of pushing further into the contested area,” as reported by Aljazeera.

Damage to Tigray heritage
Footage shows the damage to the Amanuel Orthodox church in Tigray which was shelled 17 times on November 24, 2020, by artillery fired by tanks, according to the person who recorded the footage. The church is located near the Negash (al-Nejashi) mosque, possibly the oldest mosque in Africa, which has also been gravely damaged. The Global Society of Tigray Scholars writes to UNESCO President, Audrey Azoulay, stating that “unprecedented damages […] are being purposefully and systematically perpetrated on heritage sites across Tigray”. The scholars state that the conflict in Tigray poses a grave danger to the unique part of humanity’s heritage located in the area, including 1,700 years old monolithic tomb marker obelisks that are UNESCO heritage; the fragile rock churches and archeological sites that date between 800-1000 AD; the Temple of Yeha, which is located near Axum and dates back to ca. 5th – 8th BCE, the oldest standing building in sub-Saharan Africa. Michael Gervers, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, states that “[t]his is cultural cleansing. […] The [Ethiopian] government and Eritreans want to wipe out the Tigrayan culture.” The scholars conclude that the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean army and Amhara regional forces are engaged in heritage destruction and looting.

Sexual violence in Tigray
An Ethiopian Federal government-orchestrated task force, nvestigating accusations of sexual violence on women in Tigray, moved from Addis Ababa to Mekelle last week. According to Adenew Abera, Communication Directorate Director of the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (MoWCYA), the task force includes members of the Health and Defense Ministers as well as from the Attorney General. Experts have previously called for an independent investigation of crimes committed by all parties, including investigation of the allegations on sexual violence.

Valentine’s day: campaign to boycott flowers transported by Ethiopian Airlines
A campaign has started in which the public is asked to boycott Kenyan and Ethiopian flowers transported by Ethiopian Airlines. Ethiopian Airlines is accused of participating in fostering Tigrayan ethnic discrimination. The campaign is focused on Valentine’s Day through slogans such as: “Lovely Valentine’s day roses – but are they coming from a war zone? #Ethiopia is fighting a bitter war in Tigray.”