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Teresa Cebrian Aranda
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Ethiopia's civil war is the deadliest conflict in the world. As many as half a million people have died in the conflict between the federal government and the northern province of Tigray, whose leaders used to run the country. The two sides signed a truce Wednesday but there are still enormous challenges. Former Ethiopian official Filsan Ahmed joined Nick Schifrin to discuss.
It is the deadliest conflict in the world. As many as half-a-million people have died in Ethiopia in a brutal civil war between the federal government and the northern province of Tigray, which leaders used to run the country.
Yesterday, the two sides signed a truce. But, as Nick Schifrin reports, enormous challenges lie ahead.
They have aimed their guns at each other for exactly two years. But, yesterday, they promised to silence the guns permanently.
Ethiopia's federal government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front signed a truce that requires to Tigrayan forces to disarm and recognize federal government control.
Ethiopia agreed to halt its military offensive and — quote — "further enhance its collaboration with humanitarian agencies to continue expediting aid."
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo led the negotiations.
Olusegun Obasanjo, Former Nigerian President:
This moment is not the end of this process, but the beginning of it.
Relief can't come soon enough to Tigray. More than five million need urgent food aid. The World Health Organization calls Tigray the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Dr. Fasika Amdeslasie, Surgeon:
We are not able to treat our patients. We are seeing patients dying.
Dr. Fasika Amdeslasie a surgeon at Ayder, Tigray's only functioning hospital. He hasn't received antibiotics for a year-and-a-half. There hasn't been insulin for dialysis for three months.
Dr. Fasika Amdeslasie:
Almost every kind of medicine that's required for treatment of patients has not come to the hospital.
Desperate patients line up, only to be told there's no treatment.
We are no longer professionals who treat patients, but we tell bad news. The bad news is, you have this illness, but, sorry, we cannot — we are sorry. We cannot treat you.
International humanitarian organizations have accused Ethiopian forces and their Eritrean allies of widespread atrocities and gender-based violence.
The crisis began in November 2022. Tigrayan forces, who used to run the country, attacked a federal outpost, pre-deployed federal forces and their allies from neighboring Eritrea and the Amhara region, waged a scorched-earth campaign and occupied parts of Tigray.
In June 2021, Tigrayan forces pushed most federal Ethiopian soldiers out, but the government launched a siege. Ethiopia blocked humanitarian aid from entering Tigray and even detained truck drivers. This past March, the sides signed an initial cease-fire, but, in August, Ethiopia relaunched its campaign into Tigray and seized key cities.
The campaign reduced parts of Tigray to rubble. An Ethiopian government airstrike even hit this kindergarten, killing several children.
And that is the combat that Ethiopia now promises to end.
To discuss this more, we're joined by Filsan Ahmed, the former Ethiopian minister for women, children and youth. She was the youngest minister in President Abiy Ahmed's Cabinet, but resigned last year in protest.
Filsan Ahmed, thank you very much. Welcome to the "NewsHour."
How significant, do you believe, is this truce?
Filsan Ahmed, Former Ethiopian Minister for Women, Children and Youth: I think it's very important that we finally reached to this moment.
And it's going to be very important for the country, especially for the northern parts of Ethiopia, which will bring a two-year conflict into an end.
Some of the concerns about this truce that have been raised by analysts, it doesn't include Eritrea, Ethiopia's ally to the north. It doesn't include Amhara, Ethiopian ally in Eastern Ethiopia.
Could those be spoilers going forward in actually trying to make a durable cease-fire?
From what we have seen from the agreement, it is focusing in the internal, which is this conflict is between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray regional government.
And it was a conflict that started in the intention of a quick, decisive blitzkrieg. However, it was not successful. And I believe that's why we had the involvement Eritreans. And my view is, first, we, as Ethiopians, let's discuss what we have difference in more of a roundtable, and then we can come back to external factors.
Not only was Ethiopia's blitzkrieg, as you call it, of Tigray unsuccessful, but Ethiopia launched a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, according to officials who I speak with.
More Tigrayans died from that humanitarian crisis from — than died from any of the combat. And humanitarian groups telling me there was a deliberate campaign to withhold aid from Tigray.
As we reported, this agreement does not force the Ethiopian government to allow aid into Tigray. Does that concern remain today?
There was a siege for two — more than two years now.
And I think both sides are blaming each other. But I would definitely call out for the government as the buck stops at the government's front. They are the federal government. And they should be putting people over politics. I believe the Ethiopian government has a role to play in this, as a federal government, and they should absolutely take this peace deal in a way that they can find a way to heal the people of Tigray.
You became minister in March 2020 and resigned a year-and-a-half later because, as you put it, the government's failure to bring perpetrators of war crimes, including mass rape, to account.
What did you and your ministry find?
And we set up a task force to go on the ground to find what has been happening in the region after the government took over Tigray.
We found a lot of atrocities took place, especially by the government, and Eritreans and militia as well. And that's, of course, not to say the TPLF, interestingly, took the Amhara and Afar region, have not committed any crimes. But, as a minister, at the time I was serving, we focused on Tigray, because that's where main of the conflict was taking place.
And what we found was absolutely horrendous. And, I mean, it was really hard to shake. And, for me, it was never about who committed those crimes, but it was who it was committed to. And it was the women and the innocent girls. And we had to speak up.
But due to a lot of pressure, we were not able to use any means of government media or other medias to come out and speak to the public and other — other relevant stakeholders.
Who pressured you?
The Ethiopian government?
… governments that I was serving, of course.
What do you believe justice looks like for the victims of this war?
A cessation of hostility must be reached.
But that does not mean we, of course, forgo seeking justice and accountability for the crimes of human rights violations, especially ones indiscriminate targeting of people and the systematic rape of women and girls from both sides.
Filsan Ahmed, former minister in the federal Ethiopian government, thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Watch the Full Episode
Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
Zeba Warsi is Foreign affairs producer, based in Washington DC. She's a Columbia Journalism School graduate with an M.A. in Political journalism. Prior to the NewsHour, she was based in New Delhi for seven years, covering politics, extremism, sexual violence, social movements and human rights as a special correspondent with CNN's India affiliate CNN-News18.
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