News Analysis – As Fears Grow For Civilians In Shire, Au, Tigray Region Echo Need For Immediate, Unconditional Ceasefire – Gov. To Continue “Defensive Measures”

The federal government says it will continue to take defensive measures against what it said was “repeated attack of the TPLF and its active collusion with hostile foreign powers”

Among growing global concerns and condemnations over recent intensified attacks on civilians by the joint Ethiopian and Eritrean military offensives in and around Shire, a city in northwest Tigray regional state, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat has called for “an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and resumption of humanitarian services” in the Tigray Region.

Echoing similar calls from the international community, the chairperson said in a statement on Sunday that he was following with grave concern reports of increased fighting in Tigray and called on warring parties to commit to peaceful dialogue led by the AU. But unlike most of the the international community, the statement by the Chairperson failed to call for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray region.

The AU’s call for the immediate and unconditional ceasefire was accepted by the Tigrayan authorities who said they welcomed the call and “are ready to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities”. “We also call on the [international community] to compel the Eritrean army to withdraw from Tigray, take practical steps towards an immediate cessation of hostilities, and press the Ethiopian Government to come to the negotiating table,”the statement from Tigray further said, and asked the International community to either ensure immediate cessation of hostilities or help the people of Tigray defend themselves.

This comes as fears grow among the international community for the safety of civilians caught in the crossfire in and around Shire as the Ethiopian and Eritrean allied forces are reportedly pushing to dislodge Tigrayn forces from the area, which has become under heavy shelling and air strikes over the past few days. On Saturday the International Rescue Committee (IRC) confirmed earlier reports that one of its aid workers has been killed by an attack on Friday in Shire. Another IRC staff member was also injured in the attack, and two other civilians were reportedly killed and three injured as a result of the incident, the statement added.

The latest killing of a humanitarian worker brings the number of humanitarian workers killed on duty since the onset of the war in Tigray to 24. In September last year, the number sharply climbed from 12 to 23 as reports of the killings of additional 11 aid workers from the Relief Society of Tigray (REST, an NGO based in Tigray) was confirmed.

Reports of intensive shelling and air strikes in Shire and its environs as well as the killing of the IRC staff has triggered a flurry of global call by the international community for cessation of hostilities as well as the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray.

On Saturday October 15, the US issued its latest concern “over reports of increasing violence, loss of life, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and destruction in the conflict in northern Ethiopia, particularly around Shire in the Tigray region.”

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also issued yet another statement in which he said he was gravely concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Tigray, and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

More condemnations and calls for cessation of hostilities have also been issued by several others over the weekend, including the Vice President of the EU Commission, Josep Borrell, who said he was “horrified by the reports of continuous violence, including targeting of civilians, in Shire Tigray.” USAID chief Samantha Power in her part said she was “alarmed by the escalating risk for widespread atrocities and violence against civilians in Northern Ethiopia, as well as recent attacks by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) in the city of Shire. The Tigray Defense Front’s (TDF) provocative actions in the Amhara region are only deepening the acute threat to civilians.”

The government said it was “imperative” that the government “assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities and installations in the region”

Government to continue to take “defensive measures”

In response the federal government issued a statement this morning saying that it will continue to take defensive measures against what it said was “repeated attack of the TPLF and its active collusion with hostile foreign powers”.

The government said it was “imperative” that the government “assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities and installations in the region”, it also called on civilians and humanitarian operators to distance themselves from Tigrayan forces’ military assets, signaling plans for complete takeover of the Tigray regional state.

Commenting on reports of air workers and civilian causalities, the government said it will investigate the incidents. “The government of Ethiopia deeply regrets any harm that might have been inflicted upon civilians, including humanitarian personnel, and will investigate such incidents to establish facts and provide redress when and if such unintended harm occurs” the statement adds, and pledged that the ENDF forces will strictly abide by international humanitarian law and avoid combat in urban areas to prevent civilian casualties.

In a similar statement, however, the government also reiterated its commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict under the auspices of “AU-led peace talks.”

In his statement yesterday, AU’s Chairperson signaled that talks will be “convened in South Africa by a high-level team led by the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, and supported by the international community,” but he did not give a specific time frame or mention the stakeholders among the international community.

This is the second attempt by the continental organization to organize peace talks in South Africa in as many weeks. In a letter dated 01 October and sent to Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), President of Tigray regional State, inviting him to “peace talks” scheduled to take place in South Africa from 08 October 2022, erroneously mentioned as Sunday. However, news reports soon emerged that the talks have been delayed due to logistical issues.

The chances were further dimmed when former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was named as one of the two “panelists for the peace talks process,” said he was unable to avail himself and said he “would be grateful to receive further clarity on the structure and modalities of the talks, including but not limited to the rules of engagement for all the interlocutors invited.”

The AU has not commented on the reason for the delay. AS

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