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Building on Ethiopia’s Fragile Truce

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A truce in Ethiopia has generated cautious optimism. As the belligerents take tentative steps toward peace, the first order of business is to surge humanitarian aid into Tigray and restore vital services. The country’s external partners should find ways to nudge all parties toward compromise.

After seventeen months of bitter fighting, the main belligerents in Ethiopia's civil war, the federal and Tigray region governments, recently took a small step toward peace. On 24 March, following direct contact between the two sides' military leaders, the federal government announced an "indefinite humanitarian truce". Four days later, Tigray's authorities said they would adhere to the cessation of hostilities, with officials in the regional capital, Mekelle, suggesting they were cautiously optimistic about prospects for peace. The truce comes not a moment too soon. With federal and allied forces blockading the embattled Tigray region on and off since the war began in November 2020, humanitarian organisations have been unable to consistently deliver aid overland at anything like the scale needed, leaving an estimated five million people in Tigray in urgent need of food and medicine. Since the truce announcements, four aid convoys have reached Tigray.

In order to ensure that the truce holds, Addis Ababa should immediately lift all obstacles to give agencies the unrestricted access they need to alleviate Tigray's desperate humanitarian situation. Federal authorities should also fully reconnect Tigray to trade networks, the electricity grid, and telecommunications and banking services. As part of subsequent ceasefire talks, Tigray's forces should withdraw from the parts of neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions they hold. The federal government should attempt to push Amhara forces and Eritrean troops to exit Western Tigray and, in Eritrea's case, Tigray's north east. But, if Amhara forces refuse to vacate Western Tigray, Tigray's leaders, in order to focus now on famine relief across all of the region, should accept federal and international guarantees that Amhara's annexation of the area will be addressed later. Outside powers cognisant of Ethiopia's economic woes should condition renewed financial support for the federal government on the concrete measures above as well as on commitments to a more inclusive dialogue about the country's future.