The civil war is deteriorating as the Ethiopian government announces it is launching a new offensive against insurgents in Tigray.
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
The year-long civil war in Ethiopia may be entering a more devastating phase. Rebels in the northern state of Tigray say the government is launching a new offensive. The region has been under a de facto blockade for months and humanitarian organizations say hundreds of thousands of people there live in starvation. NPR’s Eyder Peralta is in Ethiopia near the front line of this conflict. Eyder, where are you and what are you seeing?
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So I’m in a town called Debarq, which is only a few miles away from the front lines of this conflict. And normally, this would be a sleepy town in the Semien Mountains, and now it is full of warriors and displaced people. We have seen tanks preparing to go into battle, local soldiers and militias resting from the battle. But local officials here say tens of thousands of people have fled the war. And so in every street here, in every corner, in every building, there are only people. It is a mass of people. I am in a school now, and I have talked to people and continue to hear heartache, women who have lost their husbands, their children in this war.
A young woman came here to give birth to her child, came to this city to give birth to her child. And suddenly, she got the word that her grandmother was killed by a shell. She had her new baby on her back, and she could not go home because of the fighting, and she was crying. She said there was no hope. People here are fleeing an expanding war, a war that has now expanded to different states. And officials here say they do not have enough food or supplies for the number of people who keep coming. At this point, people here are sleeping outside. They do not have enough food or anything to cook.
MARTINEZ: Who are the Tigrayans and why are they fighting the Ethiopian central government?
PERALTA: Yes. So the TPLF, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, they ruled this country for 27 years. And they were ousted from power recently. And they are now fighting against the government that took power from them. So this is a power struggle that has also drawn some of the ethnic tensions that have existed in Ethiopia for centuries. So if you ask people here why they are fighting, they will tell you it has to do with their survival as a people. You will hear the same from the rebels. So everyone sees this as an existential struggle. And that tells you how difficult it will be to end this conflict.
MARTINEZ: What did this war mean for the people of Ethiopia?
PEARL: It has been devastating. I mean, the economy has been hit hard. Families have been torn apart and the war has strengthened feelings in a country that was already deeply divided. You know, in recent years, I have reported in almost every corner of this country, and this is a big country – more than 100 million people. And a few years ago, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power, there was a renewed hope that Ethiopia would finally find peace, that its people would finally live free. But what I have seen over and over over the last two years in different parts of the country is what I am seeing now, which is that people are being forced to leave their homes because of violence.
MARTINEZ: And we’ve heard a lot of warnings about the impending famine in Ethiopia. Have things gotten better in that direction at all?
PERALTA: No, not really. I mean, the international community says 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 it has pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of starvation. The international community is pushing Ethiopia to allow more aid in rebel-held areas, but nothing has really worked. The US has threatened sanctions. And yesterday, senior US officials met with their allies about the situation here. But concretely, the humanitarians say that nothing important has changed to avoid hunger in this country. It is worth noting that the government here says the international community is exaggerating this crisis.
MARTINEZ: This is NPR Eyder Peralta talking to us from northern Ethiopia. Attention, Eyder.
PERALTA: Thank you, A.
NPR transcripts are created in a hurry run by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and manufactured using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR programming is audio recording.
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