Captured members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force are marched through the streets to prison under guard by Tigray Forces, as hundreds of residents look on, in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, July 2, 2021.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia has taken another turn as Tigrayan rebels pushed into the neighboring Amhara region on Tuesday. Now, the Ethiopian government says it's ending a ceasefire and going on the offensive. It is a complex chessboard with quickly moving pieces.
Meanwhile, since Tigray forces now control large areas, the region has remained largely cut off from the world, with transport and communications links severed or blocked. The area has seen months of looting and destruction that witnesses have blamed on Ethiopian and allied forces.
Michelle Gavin, a senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, joined The World's host Carol Hills to help make sense of the unfolding situation.
Carol Hills: Michelle, the Ethiopian government says it's ending the ceasefire with Tigrayan forces and going on the offensive. Why did they make that decision?
Michelle Gavin: Well, it's clear that the Tigrayan forces intend to try and recapture territory that used to be understood as part of Tigray and that since the fighting broke out last November, has been taken over by Amhara forces, another ethnic group in Ethiopia, and claimed as part of Amhara. So, though there has been a unilateral ceasefire on the part of the government, the fighting has not actually stopped. The Tigrayan Defense Forces have continued to try and reclaim territory. So, this appears to be something of a red line for the federal government.
Orient me on this. We hear about the Amhara, Tigray, the Ethiopian forces. Who are the players and where geographically do they sit here?
So, you have the Tigrayan forces. Then you had the federal forces of Ethiopia. You also had Eritrean military forces crossing the border and assisting those federal Ethiopian forces. And finally, you had Amhara, essentially, militia forces — local forces from the Amhara region — which does border Tigray. And there's long been tension about whose land is whose, particularly in that western part of what, on a map, you would see as Tigray. The Tigrayan forces having recaptured a great deal of their territory from the Ethiopian federal forces, have pledged to continue their campaign to reclaim territory and to push out all of these armed groups that were essentially aligned against them. That means the Eritreans, and it also means those Amhara forces.
So, should we understand at this point that since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ended the ceasefire, that he's going to again send Ethiopian federal forces in to try to quell this mess?
Well, it certainly looks that way. It's very clear that the Amhara are not interested in relinquishing the territory that they had gained control over without a fight. There are reports even that other forces, perhaps some Oromo armed forces, who are not typically part of the federal military, might also be brought into the fight to push back on the Tigrayans. So, it remains to be seen exactly what Prime Minister Abiy can muster in terms of a coalition to reengage this fight. But what is painfully clear is that the violence is by no means over.
Let's look at the Tigrayan rebel forces for a second. After really being diminished by Ethiopian government forces, and also those who came in from Eritrea, they then regained their capital, Mekele. I mean, to be kind of blunt, why weren't they satisfied with retaking the capital of the region and just being done with it?
Well, I think there's a tremendous amount of resentment in Tigray about atrocities that have been committed during this campaign. I certainly am not suggesting that any of the parties to the conflict are completely innocent in terms of war crimes. But it is very clear that some truly horrific crimes have been committed against the Tigrayan people, against Tigrayan civilians — sexual violence, war crimes, by any definition. And so, I think perhaps there is also a sentiment in Tigray that it's intolerable, essentially, to allow any of the forces associated with those crimes to continue operating on what they believe to be Tigrayan soil.
What are the chances for a peaceful resolution here? In your mind, what has to happen to stem this from growing into something really, really tragic?
It's clear the Eritrean forces have to get out of Ethiopia. That's just a toxic element to this equation. Ethiopia just came out of a federal election process that was not inclusive, entirely because, obviously, there was no voting in Tigray. There wasn't voting in some other restive parts of the country. It's going to be important to acknowledge that that electoral process was insufficient, to address this, kind of, underlying political tensions — arguments about the autonomy of individual regions — these are incredibly important issues that, at their heart, are political. So, there has to be some kind of political process, rule-governed process, to work through them. And that's particularly difficult right now when, you know, you still have a situation where the the Tigrayans are considered terrorists by the federal Ethiopian state. It's very hard to engage in a rule-governed process with a group you've totally delegitimized. So, there are a lot of roadblocks to what ultimately is the only avenue out of this mess that I can see, which really is about political dialogue.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.
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