TPLF Claims New Invasion of Ethiopia's Amhara State After Taking WFP Gas Stores is 'Defensive War'
The UN World Food Program (WFP) accused the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the governing party in Ethiopia's northern Tigray state, of stealing half a million liters of fuel last week intended for food aid trucks. The TPLF confirmed the seizure, but claimed it was collecting on an old debt.
Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) troops withdrew from the town of Kobo on Monday, as TPLF forces surrounded and began entering the city to "avoid massive casualties" among civilians, a statement by the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.
Kobo is located in northeastern Amhara, about 15 kilometers south of the border with Tigray, and the first major settlement along the A2 highway that runs from Tigray to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian federal capital. In the summer of 2021, TPLF forces advanced southward along the highway, coming within 190 kilometers of Addis in late November before being repulsed by a massive counter-offensive.
A Kobo resident who had fled the fighting told Agence France-Presse in Woldiya, the next major city along the A2, that "many displaced people are now arriving from the Gobye and Robit areas," towns along the road between Kobo and Woldiya, and that the atmosphere there "is filled with uncertainty."
International media reported, based on erroneous claims, that the TPLF had also captured Woldiya over the weekend - claims both sides have denied. Other unconfirmed reports said the group had also recaptured Lalibela, a historic town to the west that was left looted and ruined when ENDF forces liberated it from TPLF occupation.
According to the Addis Standard, Lalibela, along with Sekota, further to the north, and the cities of Kombolcha and Debre Sina along the A2 highway have all imposed curfews, movement restrictions, bans on carrying weapons in public and bans on public gatherings on Tuesday. Woldiya and Dessie had previously imposed such restrictions.
DW Amharic also reported, citing the Human Rights Organization of Afar, that the TPLF had attacked the Yalo District of Afar state, to the east of Tigray, killing three civilians with heavy weapons fire. The Awasa Guardian also reported the deaths of six children and two adults in the area due to TPLF artillery fire in the days prior.
Fighting began again on August 24 after nearly five months of a ceasefire, during which time food aid blocked by the TPLF attacks was able to safely reach Tigray and alleviate some of the suffering there. Both the ENDF and TPLF have blamed each other for starting the fighting, and the TPLF claimed it knew about Abiy's alleged plans to invade Tigray from the west, which it was prepared to repulse.
The next day, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) sharply criticized the TPLF, accusing it of stealing 570,000 liters of gasoline intended for food aid trucks and demanding its return. In a statement, the TPLF didn't deny seizing the gas, but said it was collecting on a debt owed to it by the WFP. The WFP said on Tuesday it was suspending aid shipments to Tigray because of the renewed fighting.
However, by August 27, the group's narrative had changed. Claiming that the federal government's "ill-fated offensive ... was not just off to a bad start," TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda boasted that "Tigray Forces are holding their ground and MORE."
On Tuesday, he said in a press briefing that "we are fighting a defensive war" and "we remain open to negotiations," claiming that the TPLF had launched a counteroffensive after "defending (their) positions."
TPLF Rebels Against Abiy
The TPLF's uprising against Abiy's government began in November 2020 with a sneak attack on ENDF troops in Tigray, although it had been planning to resist for years.
When Abiy came to power in 2018, it ended 27 years of TPLF rule over Ethiopia, and his reforms saw the group's domineering power over other parties reduced. In response to Abiy's reforms, the TPLF began moving military equipment into Tigray, having already centralized much of Ethiopian military and industrial life into Tigray at the expense of other states.
Leaked videos and subsequent admissions by TPLF leaders like Getachew have revealed that the TPLF had extensive Western guidance in its uprising, including being advised by US diplomats to attempt to take Addis in the fall of 2021. Western media has, accordingly, repeated the TPLF's narrative of a "forced famine" by Abiy and that he is being secretly manipulated by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, leader of the only African state to refuse cooperation with US Africa Command. After Abiy came to power, he received a Nobel Peace Prize for ending the 20-year-long war with Eritrea started by the TPLF.
After the TPLF was repulsed and pushed back into Tigray in December 2021, Abiy presented three requirements for peace: the TPLF must disarm, stop its attacks on government forces, and recognize the legitimacy of Abiy's government. Long awaited peace talks were expected to begin this month.
The war has worsened an already-dire situation as a drought plagues the region. Across Ethiopia, more than 20 million people are in need of food aid - one-fifth of the country's population - including 5.4 million in Tigray, according to the WFP.
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