News Highlights: Ethiopia peace talks begin, Violence in the Blue Nile state, Sea-Watch says Libya threatened to shoot down plane

In this week’s News Highlights: Peace talks begin in South Africa – observers believe it is a genuine opportunity; State of the fighting in Tigray; As war in Tigray reaches new intensity so does fear of atrocities; The battle for dominance over the Tigray war narrative; The Guardian’s view on the Tigray war; Leaked documents show scale of crimes in Tigray region; Drone strike campaign on Oromia; Ethiopians residing in the US protected from deportation; Fear and empty streets in Eritrea;  Death toll in Blue Nile tribal clashes rises to 230; Sudanese authorities suspend NGO over struggle for internet access;  1 year anniversary of Sudan coup marked by large pro-democracy protest;  9 civilians killed in Al Shabab attack on Kismayo hotel in Somalia; WFP: only a matter of time before full-blown famine in Somalia; Fourth year of record floods in South Sudan; Libyan coast guard threatened to shoot down NGO plane; ICC Prosecutor comments on arrest and extradition of alleged traffickers; More than 29.000 died attempting to reach Europe since 2014; ECRE report: EP refuses to undersign Frontex budget; Lack of minority protection makes the world more violent and unstable, says UN; and UNHCR warns of 700 million dollar gap in budget.


Ethiopia: Peace talks begin in South Africa
On 25 October, peace talks began in South Africa between Tigray and Ethiopia representatives after a delay from the initially agreed upon date of the 24th. The talks are led by AU High Representative Olusegun Obasanjo and AU panel members Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Uhuru Kenyatta. As of 27 October, observers believe that the AU has been able to seize a genuine opportunity for peace to be negotiated in Ethiopia. The leadership of South Africa and mediators Uhuru Kenyatta and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka seems to have had critical positive importance. There is hope that the outcome of an immediate ceasefire and long-lasting end of fighting should be a real possibility. Observers state that Ethiopian and Eritrean forces do not have the upper hand in Tigray, as the shift in more mobile fighting favours TDF strategies, noting that the human costs to all parties involved is high. Observers state that the US, playing a supporting role in the negotiation, is creating fertile ground for effective talks.

Ethiopia: Current state of the fighting in Tigray
Observers state that following the fall of the perimeter around Shire there was a tactical shift for the TDF. They have increasingly relied on mobile warfare, in which they hold an advantage. This has meant abandoning a number of urban centres to federal forces. According to Ethiopia map, the EDF had took control of parts of the highway linking Adigrat to Mekelle and Adwa by 25 October. This includes the city of Adigrat, and they continued their advance along the road. The same source states ENDF and EDF forces pushed south from Adwa. They have reportedly captured Debre Genet and Legamity and are advancing towards May Kintal. On 26 October sources state that Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) took out more than 40 armoured vehicles of the joint Ethiopian and Eritrean forces in a large defensive operation in Gendebta, near the town of Adwa. More military vehicles of the ENDF and EDF have been reported as destroyed around Almeda Textile Factory in Adwa town. Rumours of the fighting around Mekelle airport were reported as fake. On 27 October, Will Ross from BBC News Africa said that heavy fighting was taking place on several fronts in Tigray. Ross said that the outcome of the fighting near the town of Adwa will determine who controls the two roads leading to the capital of Tigray, Mekelle. He added that clashes involving Eritrean forces near the border with the Afar region were also reported. 

Ethiopia: As war in Tigray reaches new intensity so does fear of atrocities
Amnesty International warns of the risk of new and increased atrocities as fighting continues in Tigray. “Tigrayan civilians are afraid that the widespread abuses, such as unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic attacks (…) might happen again,” said Muleya Mwananyanda Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. Amnesty International states that parties in the conflict must protect civilian populations caught in the crossfire. The organisation deplores the mounting number of civilian casualties to drone strikes and the incoming reports of extrajudicial killings across the region. Amnesty calls for justice to be consistently applied to prevent any feeling of impunity becoming the norm. “Failure to do so implicates them (military and civilian officials) in these crimes. We have already seen in this conflict that impunity for previous atrocities will only embolden security forces to commit more heinous crimes” stated Muleya Mwananyanda.

Ethiopia: The battle for dominance over the Tigray war narrative 
Journalist Mistir Sew states in Ethiopia Insight states that truth is important for trust in the peace process between Ethiopia and Tigray and that there is evidence that the war in Tigray had been planned by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Amhara leaders, before the elections in Tigray in September 2020. She adds that the almost total absence of access to the Tigray region for journalists, diplomats or any neutral observer has meant that international observers have had no choice but to rely on the communications of warring parties to construct the majority of their understanding of the reality on the ground. Other conflicts in Ethiopia receive less coverage due to less experience of the parties on the ground in communications, she argues. 

Ethiopia: The Guardian’s view on the Tigray war
The Guardian states Tigray is at the epicentre of one of the world’s “most brutal and deadly wars” waged today. Tens of thousands of combat fatalities were recorded since august and the civilian death toll is estimated to be between 380.000 to 600.000 civilians by researchers at the university of Ghent, overwhelmingly Tigrayans, mostly falling victim to hunger or lack of health services. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, uses human wave tactics in infantry heavy attacks made up of raw conscripts in costly manoeuvres as Eritrea intensifies mobilisation to the point of detaining the relatives of those dodging military service, says the BBC. Furthermore the International Crisis Group fears that the conflict could spill over in neighbouring countries such as Sudan. 

Ethiopia: Leaked documents show scale of crimes in Tigray region
According to an official document prepared by Tigray’s regional Emergency Coordination Centre (including regional government bureaus, UN agencies and NGOs) seen by AP News, hundreds of civilians were killed and dozens of women and girls raped during the fighting over Tigray region. The document seen on 14 October talks of 159 people shot in the Tahtay Adiyabo, Dedebit and Tselemti areas of northwestern Tigray and more were maimed by artillery or gun fire. Another 157 were taken prisoner by Eritrean soldiers in Tselemti, Dedebit and Sheraro; there is no information as to their location. Around 40 women and girls between the ages of 13 and 80 were raped in the town of Sheraro; a further 8 cases of rapes including “gang rapes” were reported in the district of Tselemti. While the identity of the perpetrators was not stated in the report, diplomatic sources state that Eritrean and Ethiopian forces took control of Sheraro last month.

Ethiopia/US: Ethiopians residing in the US protected from deportation 
Ethiopians residing in the United States will be granted work permits shielding them from deportation for the next 18 months, says Al Jazeera. The Biden administration, cognizant of the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia, extended a “Temporary Protected Status” to Ethiopians due to “extraordinary and temporary conditions” preventing a safe return. Migrants rights advocates estimate this move will protect 27.000 Ethiopian nationals from deportation. 

Ethiopia: Drone strike campaign on Oromia causes large civilian casualties
A string of drone strikes in Oromia, Ethiopia, has led to a large number of civilian casualties. International spokesman of Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), Odaa Tarbii, reported six drone strikes since 20 October; these happened as the fighting between the group and federal forces intensified, says AP News. He stated that “the Abiy regime cannot be allowed to indiscriminately bomb civilians with impunity.” Addis Standard says that, according to residents, a drone strike in Chobi district in the Ofu Bekke village of central Oromia region killed at least 68 people, including civilians, on 23 October. Over 100 people were reportedly injured. Another drone attack hit a school in the same district on 24 October; the number of victims is unknown. Kush Media Network (KMN) says that 24 people were killed and 63 others injured after a drone strike hit a protestant church during a service on 23 October, again in the Chobi district. AP News reported witness accounts of the strike on 23 October, which struck an OLA graduation ceremony. According to testimony from attendants, civilians were required to be present, resulting in many civilian deaths. AP News was not able to get comments from local or federal authorities on the strikes.

Eritrea: Fear and desperation amidst the Eritrean people, as full mobilisation continues
Martin Plaut, senior research fellow on the Horn of Africa at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, describes the situation of people in Eritrea, a country fully mobilised for war in Tigray. Plaut spoke to Eritreans who recently left the country or who have relatives still there.  They talk of the feeling of numbness caused by pain and fear prevalent in the country.  They describe forced conscription  for men, and some women, up to 60, being sent into a war, where according to estimates, 100.000 have already died in just the past few weeks, says Plaut. Families attempt to hide young relatives in fear of denunciation or of the feared national security service going door to door. Otherwise, the streets are quiet. Neighbours are wary of sharing information, in fear of spies among them, says Plaut.  

Sudan: Death toll in Blue Nile tribal clashes rises to 230
The tribal tensions on the Blue Nile state of Sudan, opposing the Hausa and Berta people over land ownership, reignited on the 19 and 20 October and the death toll has since then reached at least 230, says The Guardian. According to Al Jazeera, this constitutes the deadliest bout of tribal violence in recent years. The fighting has so far displaced at least 30.000 people, says The Guardian. Al Jazeera reports that the authorities have placed a curfew in the region and established a fact finding committee to investigate the fighting; AP News also reports that Maj. Gen. Ramzi Babaker was sacked in an effort to address the handling of the events. Residents are displeased with the response, demanding the resignation of the governor, criticised for his handling of the situation, says Al Jazeera. The news outlet states locals accuse security forces of taking sides in the fighting. In Insider Story, experts attribute this bout of violence to the inability of the military government to provide a platform for communities and individuals to feel heard on a political level and for justice to be served. This creates a reliance on the tribal security and power system and the associated tensions, say the experts.

Sudan: Sudanese authorities suspend NGO over struggle for internet access
Sudan’s military government has retracted the accreditation of a consumer protection NGO that had successfully taken the government to court over the fight for the re-establishment of internet services following last year’s military coup, says Voice of America. The Sudanese Consumer Protection Society had been able to obtain two rulings from Sudanese courts regarding the re-establishment of services which resulted in the authorities handing them an order officialisig the “deregistration, seizure of assets and property, and the freezing of assets and accounts of the Sudanese Consumer Protection Society in all banks within and outside Sudan”, says Voice of America. 

Sudan: 1 year anniversary of Sudan coup marked by large pro-democracy protest
On 25 October large pro-democracy protests were held across Sudan to mark the one year anniversary of the military coup, says Al Jazeera. Tens of thousands of protesters marched. The Sudanese Doctor’s Committee deplores the death of one of them, run over by security forces

Somalia: 9 civilians killed in Al Shabab attack on Kismayo hotel
On 23 October, the terrorist organisation Al Shabab attacked a hotel in Kismayo, Southern Somalia, resulting in the deaths of 9 civilians and 47 injured, says Al Jazeera. The attacks on the port city is, according to Al Jazeera, the latest in a string of attacks by the group. Police officer Abdullahi Ismail stated his dismay at the selection of the target, a civilian hotel near a school. However, Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operation spokesperson, claimed the hotel was targeted for harbouring Jubbaland region’s administrators who work from it.

Somalia: World Food Programme warns it is only a matter of time before full blown famine
On 21 October the World Food Programme warned it is only a matter of time before a full blown famine occurs in Somalia. The United Nations food agency claims it was only able to keep massive deaths from occurring so far by increasing food assistance to millions in situations of acute hunger. They state they  have reached 4.2 million people so far with food and cash. However the situation is expected to worsen even further as the current rainy season has failed to see any significant precipitation take place and the growing needs of the humanitarian efforts risk not being met, says Voice of America. WFP Somalia Deputy Country Director Laura Turner warns that beyond malnutrition, disease, dehydration and poor hygiene are factors of mortality that must also be accounted for. 

South Sudan: Fourth year of record floods sow chaos in South Sudan
South Sudan currently faces its fourth consecutive year of floods and faces worse as the climate crisis deepens, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They estimate ⅔ of the country is currently experiencing floodings directly impacting 900.000 people. The situation is particularly dire as South Sudan was already the UN’s most poorly funded crisis response program, having obtained only half of their needed 214.8 million US dollars this year.


Mediterranean: Libyan coast guard threaten to shoot down NGO plane
On 25 October, the Libyan coast guard allegedly threatened to shoot down a Sea Watch rescue monitoring aircraft, ordering it to exit what they claimed to be Libyan territorial airspace, despite flying over international waters, says AP News. This comes in continuation of escalating aggression, threats and violent behaviour on the part of the Libyan coast guard.  Last year they were caught on camera chasing and firing in the direction of a migrant boat, says AP News. The news outlet states that the EU, Italy and Malta have outsourced migrant interceptions to Libya, returning them to a war-torn country where they are held in detention centres known for their inhumane conditions and rampant abuses. 

Libya: ICC Prosecutor comments on arrests of suspects of Libya trafficking
On 21 October, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan commented on the arrest and extradition of two alleged Eritrean human traffickers that have been active in Libya. The two are Gebremedhin Temesghen Ghebru, extradited to Italy, and a man presumed to be Tewelde Goitom, extradited to the Netherlands. Khan states that his office actively contributed to the investigations. He states that the arrests and extraditions are “of significant importance in the work that Italy and the Netherlands are doing to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes targeting migrants.” 


Europe: More than 29.000 died attempting to reach Europe since 2014
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found that, since 2014, more than 29.000 recorded people have died on their journey to reach Europe; 5.000 of them in the last two years. According to their report, the central mediterranean route remains the deadliest with 2.836 deaths since 2021; the route typically links Libya and Tunisia with Italy or Malta. The report continues to describe the Atlantic route, linking West Africa with the Canaries, as the second deadliest. 1.532 are believed to have died on the route since 2021. The number of deaths is certainly underestimated and many are left unidentified, says the report, but many deaths are believed to have been preventable if there were effective assistance to migrants in distress, says IOM. France 24 takes a closer look at those who dedicate themselves to identifying and providing a dignified resting place for those who die during the journey. 

Europe: ECRE report – European Parliament refuses to approve Frontex budget 
A report by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) takes stock of the position of the European Parliament and Commission, after the Parliament refused to pass the 2020 budget of Frontex, the EU’s border agency, on 18 October. The vote came in the wake of the OLAF report accusing Frontex of involvement in cover-up of pushbacks of refugees and migrants. Although the EU Home Affairs Commissioner said the practices were in the past, NGOs point out that the pushbacks are still ongoing, says ECRE. Greens/EFA MEP and member of the Committee of Budgetary Control, Bas Eickhout, believes that “To this date, Frontex has still not carried out the structural reforms called for by the European Parliament in our 2019 discharge report or remedied the human rights violations identified by OLAF.” 


World: UNHCR warns of 700 million dollar gap in budget
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warns of a 700 million US dollars gap in the budget that will force cuts to lifesaving aid programmes for refugees and other forcibly displaced people. They believe that without an injection of funds before the end of the year, the cuts could be catastrophic for those many recipients dependent on the funds and services for their very survival. This could push families into having to make irreversible choices in situations of desperation to ensure their survival.

World: Lack of minority protection makes the world more violent and unstable, says UN
According to Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the global standard of protection for minorities has fallen short of the standards set by the 1992 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities. Fernand de Varennes believes that “[m]inorities are facing on a massive scale as never before threats of exclusion, discrimination, and even calls to genocide and crimes against humanity”. He called for an action plan to operationalize the 2013 call of the Secretary General to integrate minority rights as a consideration in all UN operation pillars.