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Ethiopia and Tigray have agreed to a cessation of hostilities

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ethiopia's government has agreed to a cease-fire with leaders of a rebellious region.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Tigray region has been embroiled in fighting against the central government for the past two years. There's a humanitarian catastrophe there. The war has displaced millions of people in northern Ethiopia. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. The fighting has temporarily come to a halt after peace talks mediated by a former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: This moment is not the end of peace process but the beginning of it. Implementation of the peace agreement signed today is critical to the success of the process.

INSKEEP: We're joined now by Fred Harter, who is a Sunday Times journalist based in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Welcome to the program.

FRED HARTER: Hi. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Is this a peace deal or merely a halt in the fighting for a moment?

HARTER: So this is the announcement of a formal cessation of hostilities. The parties have agreed, in the short, immediate term, to stop shooting each other, but they've also agreed to longer-term issues such as restoring aid access to Tigray and also restoring phone and internet services to Tigray, which have mostly been down since the conflict started two years ago. So as Obasanjo emphasized, this is the start of a longer peace process, and there's lots of thorny political issues that have not been touched upon in the deal and will need to be agreed at a later date. So this is the start of a longer peace process.

INSKEEP: I should mention there is this underlying dispute between the prime minister and the leaders of this region, members of a party that he was once a member of. It doesn't sound like their underlying disagreement has been addressed at all yet.

HARTER: No. What was at stake was basically a power struggle at the center of government. Abiy came in - the current prime minister came in in 2018, and he was trying to stamp his own mark of authority on the country. He wanted to centralize power. That's what his critics would say. And the Tigray region and him really fell out when the COVID-19 pandemic suspended elections. And the Tigray People's Liberation Front, Tigray's ruling party, went ahead with elections, leading to the federal government to suspend aid to the region. And that's what eventually led to the conflict breaking out two years ago.

INSKEEP: So as they begin those talks, what shape is the country in?

HARTER: Well, the country is very divided. There's been a lot of damage to infrastructure. When I was there, there was hospitals that had been completely destroyed by both sides, schools that were emptied. And you have a lot of people living in IDP camps across the country, some of them in very hard conditions.

INSKEEP: There must be people who are in desperate need of immediate help.

HARTER: Yes. Millions of people have been displaced, and many more also needing aid. The U.N. says that of Tigray's 6 million population, about 5.2 million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. There have been reports of starvation-related deaths in Tigray. And I was recently shared a document by a humanitarian agency from Friday last week which said that roughly a third of children that were screened for malnourishment and three-quarters of lactating mothers were malnourished. So there's a large need to get aid into the region very quickly.

INSKEEP: Fred Harter of the Sunday Times in Ethiopia, thanks so much.

HARTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL FRANCE'S "THE SWIMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.