By Teshome Borago
The World Food Programme (WFP) is facing new scrutiny this week after several captured fighters of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) reportedly carried “high energy” WFP biscuits the aid agencies were supposed to provide to hungry children in Tigray. Critics say history is being repeated as the TPLF rebels were similarly accused of starving regular Tigrayans by diverting food aid and the donated money to acquire weapons in the 1980s.
The latest controversy began after the Ethiopian army defeated TPLF forces in a key battlefront at Gasay town of Amhara regional state. Dozens of Tigrayan soldiers became POWs, including TPLF Colonel Gebrehiwot Gebreaelaf. Local news media revealed some of the captured soldiers had nutrient-rich & high-energy biscuits with the WFP label, including the Colonel himself.
For months since the Tigray conflict began in November 2020, TPLF fighters were accused of ambushing food aid trucks and killing drivers, which crippled governance by the transitional authorities. Instead of condemning these obstructive acts by TPLF, top westerns officials including USAID’s Samantha Powers criticized government checkpoints and pushed anti-government narratives that led to economic sanctions on Ethiopia, which indirectly helped the rebels financially, politically and militarily. To reduce the burden on average Tigrayans facing hunger, the Ethiopian government nonetheless declared unilateral ceasefire, however, the emboldened TPLF continued obstruction: this time by invading the Afar region where humanitarian aid delivery depended upon.
Before the latest corroborative evidence of TPLF diverting aid, there were already signs and reports that the rebels were receiving food aid and other resources meant for civilians. Tigrayan leader Getachew Reda previously suggested his fighters have “enough resources from Tigray” to fuel the war, despite other Tigrayans facing starvation.
The new revelations of TPLF misusing food aid from WFP, USAID and other aid agencies – supposedly earmarked for malnourished children – is expected to test the patience of the Ethiopian government dealing with foreign aid organizations. After the government initially instituted a free and open-door policy, its relations with aid groups gradually soured when some Western aid representatives began supporting the rebels politically and diplomatically. The Russia embassy in Ethiopia this week criticized “irresponsible comments” by westerners that “fuel differences.” Most of these “comments” or pro-TPLF statements were overtly expressed by US & EU officials in western capitals as well as covertly disseminated to western journalists by anonymous western aid officials stationed in Tigray hotels. Despite Addis Ababa opening up Tigray in early 2021 for Western journalists in unprecedented matter, relative to other war-zones, most correspondents were accused of using pro-TPLF interpreters and simply quoting hotel-based aid officials anonymously, without engaging in balanced and on the ground reporting. This led to various Western media blunders, including the now debunked Telegraph UK media report that claimed ethnic Tigrayans were the target in the infamous Maikadra massacre, while in reality over 1,200 ethnic Amharas were slaughtered by pro-TPLF forces in the town.
Since the latest massacre of 107 Afar children by TPLF on August 5, the Tigrayan fighters have opened a new front in northern Afar’s Zone 2, invading Berahle region and displacing thousands, after being defeated by Afar soldiers in Zone 4. Unlike in Northern Amhara zones, where TPLF successfully coordinated with pro-TPLF Tigrayans living inside Amhara towns to create panic and division, the terror group has so far failed to advance deep into Afar’s Zone 4.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia started on November 4 2020 after the TPLF waged a massive and unexpected terror attack in Tigray province, first killing hundreds of federal security officers and then butchering over 1,200 ethnic Amharas in Maikadra town. The vicious Tigrayan insurrection forced the Nobel Peace Prize winning Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to respond with force, breaking two years of his government’s restraint against TPLF, which brutally ruled Ethiopia for 27 years and attempted to obstruct historic reforms by Abiy since 2018.
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