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Ethiopia has launched a new offensive against the rebels in TigrayExBulletin

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The Ethiopian government says it has launched a new offensive in the north against the Tigrayan rebels.



SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Northern Ethiopia is practically cut off now. In terms of information, it is a black hole, as a journalist said recently.

CARA ANNA: Telecommunications are down and there is very little internet access.

MCCAMMON: Cara Anna is the AP East Africa reporter.

ANNA: Very, very little – almost no humanitarian aid is coming in right now. No medical supplies at least for the past month. No fuel for last month. And then the food depots are being emptied.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Tigray region has been at the epicenter of an ethnic civil war for almost a year now. And after a month-long ceasefire, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front says the Ethiopian government has now launched a new offensive against them.

MCCAMMON: As the war drags on, the government is also tightening its control over the press. Our correspondent, Eyder Peralta, was recently confiscated every part of his equipment.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: My microphones are my recorders – and I had to go from government office to government office, trying to get them back.

MCCAMMON: And he was asked to defend his past reporting, a sign, he says, of how things have changed from just a few years ago.

KORNISH: At the time, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised a new Ethiopia in which human rights and personal freedoms and press freedoms would be protected.

PERALTA: And the government official said to me, look, now we are fighting a war for the heart of Ethiopia, to keep this country together. And they think they have a right to restrain some of these freedoms to keep this country together, they say.

CORNISH: When I caught Eyder today, I asked him to describe where he is now as he gets closer to the conflict.

PERALTA: So I’m in Gondar, which is in the north of the country. And we have walked slowly north towards the front lines of this war. And, you know, just along the way, we’ve talked to a lot of people. And what I have heard are people whose opinions and feelings have hardened. You know, at the heart of this conflict is a centuries-old ethnic rivalry between the Amharas and the Tigrayans. So when you talk to regular people, they describe this fight as existential. They are out to kill us, and we cannot allow them. And I talked to teenagers and seniors who say they have guns and are willing to fight to the death. But at the same time, you know, this is a war, and with it comes heartbreak. I saw, you know, a mother crying because her son – her beautiful son, she told me – left in the middle of the night to join the fight in a town called Debre Tabor today. Fola me Deres Nega (ph). He is 64 years old and seven members of his family were killed when rebels bombed his house. He lost four of his children and his wife. And as we talked in front of his house, he looked desolate. And I asked him, you know, why he thought the Ethiopians were willing to kill each other. Let’s listen.

DOOR NEGA: (Speaking Amaric).

Unidentified translator: He does not know why this war is going on, except his meaning is that Tigrayan is only coming to kill or destroy the Amharas. And he says no one was from the family or someone was getting involved in any active fighting, but he lost almost his entire family.

NEGA: (Speaking Amharic).

PEARL: He says accept reality and give his pain to God.

CORNISH: Help us better understand what is going on. What exactly is this rebel Tigray party trying to achieve? Are they trying to withdraw from Ethiopia or rule it?

PERALTA: I mean, look, they didn’t say that. I think this is a complex conflict that has, you know, roots that are centuries old. But I think if we can boil it, it is a power struggle between the old Ethiopian government, who are the people – the Tigrayan party that rules this part of Ethiopia – and the new government.

CORNISH: I want to ask – and it may be too soon to ask that – but what are the prospects for a ceasefire, a prospect for peace? I mean, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia won a Nobel Peace Prize, right?

PERALTA: Yes, I do not think there are prospects in the near future. In fact, I mean, this week, the rebels say the government started bombing them and that they started a new ground invasion. Of course, I mean, if confirmed, it means that the unilateral ceasefire the government had declared earlier in the summer is completely extinguished. I spoke with a Member of Parliament who says the plans are moving towards a national dialogue. But for now, everything I hear from all parties to this conflict is bravado. And that does not bode well for peace.

CORNISH: I want to ask about the humanitarian situation because so many people have already been displaced in this war. What are the efforts to get support for the detached parts of the country? What did you hear?

PERALTA: Look – humanists say the worst conditions in this country are in rebel-held areas. The government has imposed a de facto blockade on the region and the international community says hundreds of thousands of people are living in starvation-like conditions. And getting to the truth is hard, Audie, because the government has also turned off phones and the internet in the region. And we also asked permission to enter the blocked region. But so far, the government has rejected our request.

CORNISH: And this is NPR East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. He spoke to us on the ground in Ethiopia.

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