Ethiopia’s Focus Turns to Filling Dam as Tigray War Ends

Politics

Ethiopia’s Focus Turns to Filling Dam as Tigray War Ends

  • Egypt, Sudan oppose unilateral damming of Nile reservoir
  • Abiy’s government also wants to regain territory lost to Sudan

A rebel fighter guards the outskirts of Hawzen, in Tigray region, northern Ethiopia. Photographer: Ben Curtis/AP

(Bloomberg)—Ethiopia will turn its attention to filling a massive hydropower dam on the Nile River and regaining territory lost in a dispute with Sudan as hostilities end in the northern Tigray region, the government said.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed agreed to implement a cease-fire in Tigray on June 29. The decision came after fighters loyal to the dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front recaptured the regional capital, Mekelle, from federal forces after almost eight months of conflict.

It will also try and regain lost territory in the disputed Al-Fashqa region that straddles the border with Sudan, “where our sovereign land has been invaded,” he told reporters Wednesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

Egypt and Sudan, which rely on the Nile for much of their fresh water, oppose any unilateral action that may affect the river’s flow. The two nations earlier this month garnered the Arab League’s support in calling for United Nations intervention in the dispute.

Eritrean Withdrawal

The damming is scheduled to resume when Ethiopia’s main rainy season begins around mid-July. Both Egypt and Sudan have warned of catastrophe in the region if no deal is reached before the filling, saying the U.S. and European Union should join negotiations.

While Ethiopian forces have pulled out of Tigray, TPLF forces in the region haven’t yet agreed to a cease-fire. They’ll continue fighting until demands including the withdrawal of Eritrean troops are met, TPLF executive member Getachew Reda said.

Eritrean forces joined with Ethiopia last year in shelling and invading the Tigray region, and still hold territory within the Ethiopian region. They have been accused of some of the worst in a long list of human-rights abuses in recent months.

The TPLF also wants Abiy to restore services to Tigray, including power and telecommunications, and agree to be held accountable for atrocities in the war, Getachew said.

Tigray Offensive

“If he is interested in a cease-fire, let him address those issues,” he said in a phone interview. “You cannot cut off electricity and services and expect to make peace.”

Fighting erupted in Tigray in early November after Abiy ordered an incursion into the northern region in response to an attack on a federal army base by troops loyal to the TPLF. Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 2 million people have been displaced, while the United Nations has said famine has begun to grip hundreds of thousands of people.

The TPLF forces recaptured Mekelle on Monday after making a series of territorial gains over the past week, when they began targeting four Ethiopian army divisions — an offensive that coincided with parliamentary elections on June 21.

Abiy said the Ethiopian army withdrew from Tigray not because it was defeated, but because it had reduced the region’s capacity to pose any threat to the rest of the country.

“The power levels today, the economic, military and governmental structures with Tigray is currently lower, if not equivalent to, other regions,” unlike two years ago, Abiy said in remarks to select reporters in Addis Ababa on June 28 but only made public the following day.

The prime minister said the government’s total spending on the Tigray operation — including food aid — was 100 billion birr ($2.3 billion), about 20% of the nation’s federal budget.

“During the rainy season, there is another project that we are giving a priority to,” he said. “We want to save our money, military and focus on the main issue.”