Two years of Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: A timeline

On November 2, representatives of the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) agreed to a cessation of hostilities after peace talks led by the African Union in South Africa.

That agreement, on the eve of the second anniversary of the war, brought an end to a conflict that began after Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northern region of Tigray in November 2020.

Both sides are currently in the process of implementing the points agreed to in the peace agreement.

The conflict left thousands dead and displaced millions in Tigray but now there is hope that humanitarian aid can start flowing back into the region where more than 90 percent of its 5.4 million people urgently require food aid, according to the United Nations.

Here is a timeline of the two-year war.

November 4, 2020: Prime Minister Abiy orders troops to respond to an attack on federal army camps that he blamed on the TPLF, which denied this. The fighting was an outcome of months-long tensions between the sides. In September 2020, Tigray had held regional elections in defiance of Addis Ababa which postponed the polls until August due to COVID-19. As a result, the federal government called the vote illegal and started withholding social welfare funds from Tigray.

November 9: The war intensifies as at least 600 civilians are killed in a massacre in the town of Mai Kadra. With telephone and internet communication lines cut, information was hard to obtain and verify. Abiy says the operation will be over “soon” as the fighting escalates with thousands of people killed so far and tens of thousands displaced.

November 14: The TPLF fires rockets into Asmara, the capital of neighbouring Eritrea that has been supporting the federal government. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael also says his forces have been fighting Eritrean troops “on several fronts” in the days before.

The 10-day conflict leads to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing into neighbouring Sudan, describing the horror of intense fighting, including horrific killings. The United Nations warns of possible war crimes in Tigray.

The relations between Ethiopia and Sudan are on edge with the incoming refugees as longstanding territorial claims between both sides are deadlocked.

November 28: Abiy announces that military operations in Tigray have been “completed”. However, fighting continues in parts of Tigray.

January 27, 2021: The US calls on Eritrea to “immediately” withdraw its troops who have been fighting in Tigray. But Ethiopia’s government denies their presence in the country.

February: Amnesty International says Eritrean soldiers killed “hundreds of civilians” in November in the holy city of Axum in Tigray. More reports of atrocities emerge, with civilians accusing Eritrean forces of carrying out massacres and systematic rape.

March 10: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemns acts of “ethnic cleansing” in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, as he calls for “full accountability” and the departure of troops from neighbouring Eritrea and other fighters.

March 23: After months of denying Eritrea’s involvement in the war, Abiy finally admits that neighbouring troops entered Tigray, suggesting that they may have been involved in atrocities against civilians.

The next day, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says Eritrean soldiers massacred more than 100 civilians in Axum in November. The findings by the government-affiliated but independent body corroborate separate investigations by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

March 26: Abiy says that Eritrea had agreed to withdraw its forces from Tigray.

April 15:  The UN’s top humanitarian official, Mark Lowcock, says there is no evidence of Eritrean troops’ withdrawing from Ethiopia.

April 22: The UN Security Council finally issues its first joint statement on the continuing crisis, expressing “deep concern” about allegations of human rights violations, including reports of sexual violence against women and girls.

It also calls for “a scaled-up humanitarian response and unfettered humanitarian access” to address humanitarian needs, including for people in the embattled region who need food assistance.

May 24: The US State Department announces it is imposing economic and security sanctions on Ethiopia, as well as visa restrictions on current or former Ethiopian and Eritrean government officials and members of their security forces, as well as Amhara regional forces and TPLF members.

May 26: US President Joe Biden calls for a ceasefire and an end to “large-scale human rights abuses” in Tigray.

June 10: The UN and international aid groups say more than 350,000 people in Tigray are facing famine, with millions more at risk.

June 21: Ethiopians vote in a crucial parliamentary election taking place against the backdrop of war and famine in the northern Tigray region.

June 28: Ethiopia’s government declares a unilateral ceasefire in its northern Tigray region as the TPLF reportedly takes control of more territory after recapturing the regional capital, Mekelle.

July 3: More than 400,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray are now suffering the effects of famine and 1.8 million others are on the brink, acting UN aid chief Ramesh Rajasingham says.

July 10: Ethiopia’s governing Prosperity Party wins the most seats in the country’s parliamentary election, assuring Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of a second five-year term in office.

August 10: Abiy issues a call for all eligible civilians to join the armed forces amid the ceasefire his government declared in June, as fighting raged in multiple regions of Africa’s second-most populous nation.

August 13: Biden sends his special envoy for the Horn of Africa to Ethiopia to push for an end to increased fighting that has worsened fears of an unfolding humanitarian disaster.

August 26: As fighting continues in the Tigray region, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission says that more than 210 people have been killed across several days of ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s tense Oromia region.

August 27: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says “a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes” as he warns the Security Council the conflict in Ethiopia has spread beyond the Tigray region.

September 30: Ethiopians in three regions where elections had been delayed head to the polls to vote for their representatives, with one area also voting on whether to form its own regional state.

On the same day, Ethiopia’s government orders the expulsion of seven senior United Nations officials from the country for “meddling” in its internal affairs.

October 4:  Abiy is sworn in for a new five-year term as Ethiopia’s prime minister as his government faces a host of challenges, including a months-long conflict in the northern region of Tigray.

Month of October: Fighting between both sides intensifies as the Ethiopian federal government launches air raids for several weeks throughout the Tigray region.

November 2: Ethiopia declares an immediate nationwide state of emergency, telling citizens to prepare to defend the capital, as fighters from Tigray threaten to march towards the city.

November 4: One year since the conflict started, regional and Western powers call for an immediate ceasefire as the fighting continues.

November 12: Ethiopia’s conflict-torn Tigray region is under a “systematic blockade”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general says, warning that people were starving to death and dying from a lack of access to medicine.

November 17: Since the state of emergency started two weeks earlier, at least 1,000 people, mostly ethnic Tigrayans, have been imprisoned in cities across Ethiopia, the United Nations says.

November 24: Prime Minister Abiy goes to the front lines to lead his troops in the battle against Tigrayan forces, promising victory.

November 28: Police arrest a freelance video journalist working for the Associated Press after his return from a reporting trip.

December 16: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report that armed forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have stepped up killings, mass detentions and expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in neighbouring western Tigray.

December 20: Tigrayan forces say they have withdrawn from neighbouring regions in northern Ethiopia, a step towards a possible ceasefire after 13 brutal months of war.

January 7, 2022: The Ethiopian government announces that it will pardon and release some of the country’s most high-profile political detainees, including opposition figure Jawar Mohammed and senior Tigray party officials.

January 13: “Nowhere in the world are we witnessing hell like in Tigray,” WHO’s chief Tedros says, as a blockade prevented medicines and other life-saving supplies from reaching the northern region.

January 28: More than a third of people in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region are suffering from “an extreme lack of food” following 15 months of fighting, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports. It also sounds an alarm about rising hunger in the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

February 15: Ethiopia’s parliament votes for an early end to a six-month state of emergency, declared when rebel Tigrayan forces were threatening to march on the capital, Addis Ababa.

March 11: At least 750 civilians were killed or executed in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions in the second half of 2021, the EHRC says.

March 24: Ethiopia’s government declares “an indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately”, saying it hoped to hasten the delivery of emergency aid into Tigray.

March 25: Tigrayan fighters agree to a “cessation of hostilities”, a turning point in the nearly 17-month war in northern Ethiopia.

April 1: Trucks carrying aid enter territory controlled by Tigrayan forces for the first time since December 15, the WFP says on Twitter.

April 25: Tigrayan rebels leave the neighbouring region of Afar, a TPLF spokesperson says, as the Afar police commissioner reports that rebels remain in several districts within the region.

May 17: Ethiopia and the World Bank sign a pact for a grant of $300m to assist reconstruction and recovery in conflict-hit areas, the finance ministry says, as the unilateral ceasefire continues.

May 20: Tigrayan rebel forces say that they will release 4,000 prisoners of war as part of an amnesty.

August 2: The US and European Union envoys for the Horn of Africa urge Ethiopia’s government to resume essential services in Tigray which is struggling to cope with food shortages and no access to basic utilities since June 2021.

August 17: The federal government proposes a formal ceasefire agreement be reached as soon as possible to continue basic services to the northern region.

August 24: The months-long ceasefire ends as fighting erupts between both sides around the town of Kobo. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he is shocked by renewed fighting and appeals for an immediate ceasefire.

September 1: As fighting intensifies again, Ethiopian and Eritrean government forces launch an attack on Tigray, targeting rebel forces.

September 11: Tigrayan rebels say they are ready to take part in peace talks led by the African Union (AU), removing an obstacle to potential negotiations with the government to end almost two years of fighting.

September 20: Tigrayan forces say Eritrea has launched a full-scale offensive and heavy fighting was taking place in several areas along the border.

October 5: Both fighting sides say they have accepted an invitation by the African Union to participate in peace talks in South Africa.

October 25: Delegates of the Ethiopian government and rival Tigrayan forces start peace talks in Pretoria, marking the first formal meeting between the two warring sides after nearly two years of bloody conflict.

November 2: The parties agree on a “permanent cessation of hostilities”, little more than a week after formal peace talks began in South Africa.

In the following days, regional and world leaders hail the peace agreement, raising hopes for an end to two years of brutal conflict marked by atrocities, including killings, gang rapes and starvation.

The TPLF and federal government agree to “orderly, smooth and coordinated disarmament” and “restoration of law and order” among conditions in the peace agreement.

November 7: Representatives of Addis Ababa and Mekelle meet in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to discuss the implementation of the terms in the agreement.

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