Ethiopian federal authorities are dismissing a claim by Tigrayan rebels that their forces have pulled out of the neighboring Afar region.
A spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front this week said the rebels had withdrawn their fighters so the federal government would allow much-needed aid to reach the Tigray region.
But four days after that announcement, the federal government did not appear to be increasing the frequency of humanitarian convoys to Tigray, as some had hoped.
On Wednesday, the Afar Mass Media Agency released a statement refuting the TPLF claim that it had pulled out of the northern Ethiopian region.
“The terrorist TPLF has been spreading false propaganda that is far from the truth,” the statement said. It then listed areas of Afar where the TPLF was still present.
The Afar regional communications office did not respond to a request for comment. It has not yet been possible to verify if Tigrayan forces are still in Afar.
Yohannes Abraham, a spokesperson for the TPLF, reiterated the claim to VOA that TPLF forces had left.
“The pullout was done per the previous plan to withdraw in a step-by- step fashion,” he said. “Contrary to the false narrations, as usual, alluded by the Ethiopian government and its subsidiaries in Afar and elsewhere, as we speak, there are no Tigrayan forces remaining in Afar. Even if humanitarian deliveries shouldn’t be conditioned, as you know, the presence of our forces in Afar is no more an excuse for the region to block delivery of humanitarian aid.”
William Davison, an analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said the Ethiopian federal government had indicated the TPLF’s pullout from Afar might result in more aid reaching Tigray.
“Throughout the government’s communication following its humanitarian truce announcement,” he said, “it made reference to the Tigray forces’ presence in Amhara and Afar regions, almost suggesting that it’s a condition for the increased delivery of aid for Tigray’s forces to vacate those areas. … It seems the conditions inside Tigray are absolutely desperate. … Now we will see if this leads to something approaching unrestricted humanitarian access.”
Ethiopian analyst Kiram Tadasse said, however, that even if the Ethiopian federal government gave the go-ahead for aid to enter Tigray, forces from the Afar and Amhara regions might still block them, as has happened in the past.
The humanitarian need in Afar and Amhara also is at a crisis point, Tadasse said.
“We should not be underestimating the potential challenge that could come from the Afar regional forces,” he said. “Like in Tigray, many people in Amhara and Afar region are also in need of food aid, and there should be certain ways to deal with this deadlock, regardless of the urgent need to respond to the situation in Tigray, where access is a critical issue.”
Combined, Tigray, Afar and Amhara have 9.4 million people who need humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N., which also said the humanitarian situation in Tigray in particular was so desperate that “people have been eating roots and flowers and plants instead of a normal steady meal.”