The Irish Times view on the war in Tigray: a humanitarian crisis

Some 5.2 million people in the region require food assistance, of whom 400,000 are living in famine-like conditions, according to the UN

A fighter loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) walks along a street last May in the town of Hawzen, then-controlled by the group but later re-taken by government forces, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Tigray forces say Ethiopia’s government has launched its threatened major military offensive against them in an attempt to end a nearly year-old war. Photograph: Ben Curtis/ AP

A fighter loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) walks along a street last May in the town of Hawzen, then-controlled by the group but later re-taken by government forces, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Tigray forces say Ethiopia’s government has launched its threatened major military offensive against them in an attempt to end a nearly year-old war. Photograph: Ben Curtis/ AP

 

A new offensive by the Ethiopian army in Tigray has shattered the ceasefire declared in June as government forces retreated from the province, and threatens to deepen an already dire humanitarian crisis.

Some 5.2 million people in Tigray require food assistance, of whom 400,000 are living in famine-like conditions, according to the UN. It has reported the blocking by government forces of nine-tenths of food supplies to the region, causing severe shortages and a sharp rise in prices. UN secretary general António Guterres says he has warned prime minister Abiy Ahmed that restrictions on deliveries have created a humanitarian crisis that is “spiralling out of control”.

For Abiy, sworn in for a second term last week after a contentious election, the offensive is an attempt to reclaim ground lost early in the summer to Tigrayan forces in the brutal 11-month war. Tigrayan sources say the new offensive involves Ethiopian forces, boosted by young fighters recruited during the ceasefire by Abiy, and militias from the country’s Amhara region, long in dispute with Tigray, and where much of the recent fighting has happened. It remains unclear if neighbouring Eritrea has also re-engaged on the Ethiopian side.

Rights groups have documented large-scale massacres, summary executions, widespread sexual violence, indiscriminate shelling, pillage, destruction of crops and refugee camps, attacks on civilian infrastructure, such as factories, schools, and hospitals, and obstruction of humanitarian assistance.

The new fighting defies calls for peace and negotiations from the UN and others, and the threat of new sanctions from the US and EU. At the UN Security Council Ireland and others have been frustrated in their attempts to raise the broader conflict which Ethiopia insists is an internal matter, and even attempts to deplore the expulsion from Addis Ababa recently of UN humanitarian officials involved in emergency aid supplies. The council has heard demands for an immediate restoration of the ceasefire and unfettered humanitarian access. They must be heeded.

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