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Ethiopia Is Facing Humanitarian Crisis Amid A Ceasefire Declaration

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Ethiopia's government declared a unilateral cease-fire this week after nearly eight months of fighting in the country's north. The opposing force in that civil war, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF, has recaptured the regional capital at the center of the fighting. And the group has dismissed the government's cease-fire, claiming to have crushed government forces instead. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is worsening. The U.N. projects a third of a million people are facing famine. And a bridge that's critical to delivering food to the region has just been destroyed. Joining us to talk more about this is Samuel Getachew, a freelance journalist based in Ethiopia's capital. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SAMUEL GETACHEW: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: In his first public remarks since the cease-fire, Ethiopia's prime minister Abiy Ahmed said his government's troops initiated a tactical withdrawal from the regional capital Mekelle because the city is no longer the center of gravity in this conflict, he said. Now, as we mentioned, the TPLF has rejected the cease-fire and says they forced government troops to flee. So what can you tell us about how to resolve these conflicting remarks?

GETACHEW: Well, if you speak to the Ethiopian government, they will tell you that they are giving humanitarian corridors a chance because, again, according to the U.N., lots of people are facing famine. But if you speak to the TPLF side, which is in Mekelle now, as you mentioned, they're saying that they did defeat the coalition between the Ethiopian side, the Eritrean and the Amharas from the south. So, again, it depends on who you speak to.

SHAPIRO: The upshot is we really don't know which one is true.

GETACHEW: Exactly. And, you know, for a better part of the conflict, people like myself - we did not have access to the region. So we were really late by the time we went to the region and trying to verify all this information. So everything we're receiving contradicts what we've received previously. So we are working on it.

SHAPIRO: This is a unilateral government cease-fire in a war that has already killed many thousands over months. Is violence continuing despite the government saying it has stopped?

GETACHEW: Well, there are many parts of the region that is in conflict. There are also areas we can't access, the humanitarian organizations cannot access. So this conflict has really just begun. And again, if you listen to the U.N., they're saying 91% of the population - just imagine, 91% of the population are in need of food aid, as you mentioned. For many people - people perhaps a bit older remember the Ethiopian famine of 1984, which really affected so many people. And many of those famine happened in the region of Tigray. So for many people, again, it's a Catch-22. We're going back to the old era where Ethiopia can - is really struggling to support and feed millions of Ethiopians.

SHAPIRO: How much is the destruction of this key essential bridge going to affect the humanitarian crisis that is already affecting hundreds of thousands of people?

GETACHEW: To begin with, the Tigray region is one of the poorest parts of Ethiopia, so this bridge means a lot. This is the same bridge that the U.N. is using to transport basic needs to the people that really need it. So without this bridge, you can only imagine what it means in terms of delivering the basic needs that you need to make sure that this famine that's certain to come will only affect a portion of what the U.N. is telling us is going to be victims. So this bridge means everything for thousands, if not millions of people that really rely on foreign aid.

SHAPIRO: That is Samuel Getachew, a freelance journalist based in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Thank you very much.

GETACHEW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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