Thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region staged protests Tuesday demanding to be able to return home and calling for the withdrawal of “invading forces”, witnesses and local television said.
The two-year war in Africa’s second most populous country killed untold numbers of civilians and forced about two million from their homes before it ended with a surprise truce in November last year.
Although the guns have fallen silent and humanitarian aid is being restored to the stricken Tigray region, numerous challenges remain to cement the peace.
Demonstrators in several cities including the regional capital Mekele chanted and waved placards declaring: “Return us quickly to our homelands”, “Invading forces should leave our land”, clips broadcast on the local Tigrai TV channel showed.
Eritrea’s army as well as military forces from the neighbouring region of Amhara played a key role on the Tigray battlefield in support of Ethiopian government forces.
Amhara forces still control western Tigray, a disputed region claimed by both Amharas and Tigrayans, while Eritrean troops are also believed to have a presence in border areas.
It is impossible to verify the situation on the ground because access to Tigray for journalists remains restricted.
Hadush Kassa who hails from Humera, the biggest town in western Tigray, and took part in the protests in Mekele said there was “no alternative” to resettlement.
“We are asking to return to our original homeland so that we can farm and eat,” he told AFP by phone.
Birhan Tadesse, who also joined the Mekele demonstrations, said they hoped to return to their home before the onset of the rainy season.
“We’re not getting aid here, we’re starving here,” she told AFP, adding that life had not improved since the peace deal was signed in the South African capital Pretoria.
“We want to return to our home areas, we don’t want to continue living here, living off meagre aid.”
Getachew Reda, the head of the Tigray interim regional administration, said last week his authority was committed to ensuring those displaced are able to return home.
About 90 percent of Tigray’s six million people, who were largely cut off from the outside world during the conflict, rely on humanitarian aid.
Although the northern region is now more accessible, aid has yet to reach the level required, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said in April.
Tigray’s once efficient health system is on its knees, and according to OCHA, 85 percent of schools have serious or partial damage.
The conflict began in November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had sent troops into Tigray to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), then the regional ruling party — a move he said came in response to attacks on federal army camps.
It followed months of rancour between the two sides as the TPLF, which dominated the government for three decades, became increasingly marginalised after Abiy came to power in 2018.
Although the death toll is not known, the United States has estimated it cost around half a million lives.