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Ethiopia and Tigray begin a new phase of ethnic conflict. What’s going on now?

With mass arrests and offensive attacks, tensions are still heightened in the country’s 9-month civil war

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Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force who were captured by Tigray forces.

Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force who were captured by Tigray forces look out from the gate of a prison where they are now held as prisoners of war, in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.

Associated Press

Ethiopia’s civil war has not ended. The central Ethiopian government has been fighting the northern region of Tigray since last November, reported the Deseret News. The fighting has devastated the people of Tigray and pushed the region toward the worst famine in decades.

  • Two weeks ago, the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral, unconditional ceasefire, citing humanitarian reasons, per the Deseret News.
  • The opposition forces of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front did immediately accept but later said they accepted “in principle,” reported Al Jazeera.

However, fighting has begun to escalate once again as the Tigrayan forces launch offensive attacks and claim more territory in the contested region, per Al Jazeera. The Ethiopian government has vowed that these actions will not go unanswered.

What’s happening in Ethiopia and Tigray now?

In Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopian police have begun to detain ethnic Tigrayans. The police deny that arrests are ethnically targeted, but local reports contradict this, reported Reuters.

  • According to a local Tigrayan lawyer, more than 100 Tigrayans have been arrested or detained in the last two weeks, per Reuters.
  • This is the third wave of crackdowns on ethnic Tigrayans since fighting began in November, Reuters reported.

In Tigray’s regional capital of Mekelle, Tigrayan forces have firmly reestablished control. Ethiopian forces occupied the city until two weeks ago in a sudden and significant turn of events where Tigrayan forces captured the capital, reported the AP.

  • More than 6,000 Ethiopian soldiers and officials have been detained in Mekelle as prisoners of war. Their camp has very little food and very few medical supplies, according to a recent AP report.
  • Tigrayan forces have relaunched offensive attacks, expanding their control into the southern and western portions of the region, per Al Jazeera.

What’s it like on the ground?

Since Tigrayan forces retook control of Mekelle, Tigray has been largely cut off from the outside world. Transportation and communication links have been blocked or severed, reported The Associated Press.

  • The fighting between Tigray and Ethiopia has “killed thousands, displaced millions, caused widespread famine, and brought allegations of atrocities against all involved troops,” according to Deseret News.
  • The conditions in Tigray have become one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world with more than 353,000 Tigrayans at the most severe risk of famine and another 1.8 million at the second-most severe risk, reported the Deseret News.

Essential aid from the U.N. arrived in Tigray’s regional capital recently, but more aid is desperately needed to keep people from starving, per Al Jazeera.

When will the war end? Is a true ceasefire coming soon?

The next phase of the civil war remains increasingly uncertain. Tigrayan forces have begun clashing with local forces from their neighboring region of Amhara, according to U.N. reports, per Al Jazeera.

  • Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Wednesday that he remained committed to peace but would not allow these latest attacks to “go unanswered,” per Al Jazeera.

Tensions remain heightened and fighting may escalate quickly in the coming days or weeks, reported Al Jazeera.