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Ethiopia just declared a humanitarian cease-fire in Tigray. What happens now?

After nearly 8 months of fighting and millions on the brink of famine, a cease-fire was desperately needed

The city of Mekele is seen through a bullet hole in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
In this Thursday, May 6, 2021, file photo, the city of Mekelle is seen through a bullet hole in a stairway window of the Ayder Referral Hospital, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
Ben Curtis, Associated Press

In a surprising turn of events, the government of Ethiopia announced an immediate, unilateral cease-fire on Monday night. The cease-fire — called on humanitarian grounds — will end nearly eight months of civil war in Tigray, a northern region of Ethiopia, reports NPR.

  • Ethiopian forces, allied with Eritrean forces, have been locked in civil war with the regional forces of Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, reports Deseret News.
  • The civil war in Tigray has killed thousands, displaced millions, caused widespread famine, and brought allegations of atrocities against all involved troops, says CNN.
  • It’s been one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with over 353,000 Tigrayans at the highest risk of famine and another 1.8 million Tigrayans at the second-highest risk, reports Deseret News.

Tigrayan forces have not yet commented or agreed to the cease-fire. Eritrean forces, allies with Ethiopian military, have also not commented, reports NPR.

  • Here’s what we know right now about the conflict and the potential peace.

Why is there a cease-fire now? What changed in Tigray?

Over this last week, two developments have contributed to the Ethiopian government announcing a cease-fire:

  • Ethiopia’s military conducted an airstrike last week on a busy marketplace in Tigray, killing more than 60 people and sparking international condemnation, reports NPR.
  • In a major turn, Tigray Defense Forces took control of the regional capital, Mekelle, on Monday and forced the Ethiopian military to leave, says The New York Times. Ethiopian forces have controlled Mekelle since late November and have been accused of committing sexual violence and other atrocities against Mekelle residents.

Residents in Mekelle greeted Tigrayan fighters with celebrations and cheers. The Ethiopian military has not commented on losing control of Mekelle but insists that the cease-fire was called for humanitarian reasons, reports The New York Times.

What are the details of the cease-fire agreement?

The Ethiopian government’s cease-fire “will enable farmers to till their land, aid groups to operate without any military movement around and engage with remnants (of Tigray’s former ruling party) who seek peace,” per NPR.

  • The cease-fire will last until the end of the crucial planting season which ends in late September, says The Associated Press.

The cease-fire statement also said that Ethiopia will pursue former Tigrayan leaders and bring them “to justice” for the conflict, says the AP.

What happens now?

The Tigrayan Defense Forces have not yet accepted the truce. Comments from Tigrayan fighters after taking control of Mekelle emphasized that the fighting wasn’t over, reports CNN.

  • Early reports from The New York Times say that Eritrean forces — who have been accused of some of the worst atrocities of the war — have begun pulling out of Tigray.

Humanitarian groups and international aid workers are optimistic the cease-fire will allow them to provide essential and needed aid to parts of Tigray that were previously inaccessible due to military presence, says NPR.