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Federal forces capture key Tigrayan towns in Ethiopia

October 18, 2022

International calls for an immediate cease-fire and peace talks in Ethiopia are growing louder as the conflict escalates. The UN wants a resumption of humanitarian aid in the face of the "staggering" level of need.

Soldiers with rifles
Ethiopian federal troops in pictured in northeastern Gondar in September 2021, some 10 months into the Tigray conflictImage: AMANUEL SILESHI/AFP/Getty Images

The Ethiopian federal government on Tuesday said it has taken control of three towns in the northern Tigray region.

"The ENDF [Ethiopian National Defence Force] has taken control of towns of Shire, Alamata and Korem without fighting in urban areas," a government statement posted to Twitter said.

The Tigrayan forces meanwhile confirmed losing control of the key and populous town of Shire to the federal forces. Tigrayan authorities are now urging citizens in the region to fight back. 

The federal government had on Monday said it wanted to take control of airports and other federal facilities in Tigray, claiming it is necessary to seize key infrastructure in the north to protect airspace and distribute humanitarian aid.

It added that it was committed to the "peaceful resolution" of the two-year-old conflict with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and its allies.

UN and Western powers urge immediate cease-fire

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the United States and other Western powers, including Germany, have voiced alarm over the worsening violence in Tigray.

Guterres on Tuesday reaffirmed his call for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire and the resumption of humanitarian services.

"The level of need in Ethiopia is staggering. Even before hostilities resumed in August, 13 million people required food and other support across Tigray, Amhara and Afar," Guterres said.

He urged all parties to "allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians."

Germany urges national dialogue

The German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office Katja Keul has told DW that a national dialogue would be an important step to resolving the Tigray conflict.

"To come to peace and security national dialogue can be a very important step, there is no one patten for every country because every conflict has its own patten," she said.

Keul said achieving peace will require serious commitment from political leaders involved in the conflict.

"It is important first of all that the political leaders are willing to do this process then it needs to be inclusive with the participation of vulnerable groups, and then in the end if it is successful the next step is to implement the results of the national dialogue."

Katje Keul
Katja Keul, German Minister of State at the Federal Office, was in Ethiopia on October 14-16, 2022Image: Alemnew Mekonnen/DW

Peace talks set for October 24

The UN has already said it is ready to support the African Union (AU) to end the war.

A five-month cease-fire between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan regional forces broke down in August, leading to fresh clashes.

Earlier this month, peace talks that were scheduled to take place in South Africa were delayed. On Thursday, Ethiopia's government said the AU has now scheduled the talks for October 24.

On October 16, the AU called for an immediate cease-fire. AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat urged the rivals to "recommit to dialogue."

Tigrayan authorities said their forces would abide by an immediate truce.

Redwan Hussein, National Security Adviser to Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, on Tuesday said had said the federal government was awaiting a new date for talks from the AU.

In a subtle way, Hussein rejected the UN chief's claim of the conflict spiraling out of hand. "Just for the record, the conflict isn't spiraling as opposed to some who would like to paint it," he said on Twitter.

Eritrea denies role in escalation

Addis Ababa-based political and social analyst, Befekadu Hailu, told DW that a cease-fire must precede peace talks.

"I hope they would agree on the peace talks to cease fire completely and if there is a cease-fire and resumption of humanitarian aid and protection mechanisms for civilians suffering, then I think that is when we start to hope," Hailu said.

There is particluar concern for the humanitarian situation in Shire, a city of 100,000 people, where Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are engaged in a joint-operation against the TPLF.

On Friday, an aid worker from the International Rescue Committee was among three people killed in fighting. Ethiopia has said it 'deeply regrets' harm to civilians and aid workers in Tigray.

Meanwhile Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Meskel has rejected criticisms that Eritrea was contributing to the escalation of hostilities.

"Quest for enduring peace cannot be selective in legal and moral terms,” he said on Twitter.

How the conflict started

Prime Minister Abiy sent government troops into Tigray in November 2020 after accusing the TPLF of attacking military camps.

The TPLF had dominated Ethiopia's ruling political alliance for decades before Abiy took power in 2018.

The ensuing conflict has as killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and left hundreds of thousands now facing possible famine.

War reignites in Ethiopia's Tigray region

Alemnew Mekonnen contributed to this article.

Edited by: Benita van Eyssen