Ethiopian Airlines flies to Tigray for the first time in 18 months



Families hugged and cried on Wednesday after the first commercial flight in 18 months between Ethiopia’s capital and the war-torn Tigray region in the north.

The return of flights between Addis Ababa and Mekele, the capital of Tigray, follows a ceasefire agreed last month between the government and rebel forces and the gradual reopening of the affected region.

Ethiopian Airlines, the largest airline in Africa, announced this week that it would lift its suspension for flights to Tigray with the first charter to the region since June 2021.

On Wednesday, passengers arriving from Mekele were greeted with long hugs, flowers and tears by relatives at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport.

Fana Broadcasting Corporate, a state-owned broadcaster, said the flight to Mekele took off around noon. The Ethiopian government news agency broadcast images of passengers on board the plane.

Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigray regional government, said on Twitter that an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane landed at Mekele airport.

Tigrai TV, a network linked to the rebels, aired footage of passengers getting on their knees and kissing the tarmac on arrival at Mekele.

Kindeya Gebrehiwot, another Tigrayan official, hailed it as a “milestone” and said more services would soon be returning to the war-weary region.

A high-level government delegation visited Tigray this week for the first time since the November peace deal was signed to end two years of bloodshed in Africa’s second-most populous country.

Estimates of casualties vary widely, with the United States saying up to half a million people have died while the European Union says more than 100,000 people have been killed.

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disarmament

Since the armistice was signed, aid has trickled back into Tigray, helping to alleviate severe shortages of food, fuel, cash and medicines.

Mekele has been reconnected to the national grid and the country’s largest bank says financial services have resumed in some towns.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the head of state-owned Ethio Telecom had announced the restoration of telecommunications services in Mekele.

Services have been restored in 27 cities across Tigray and nearly 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of fiber optic cable has been repaired, spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said on Twitter.

But the wider region of six million people is still largely without electricity, phone lines or internet service, and aid agencies are warning Tigray of starvation.

The peace deal was intended to pave the way for the resumption of critical services in exchange for disarming rebel fighters in Tigray.

Abiy’s security adviser Redwan Hussein said on Tuesday that companies had been ordered to speed up the delivery of services while rebels “handed over heavy weapons” as Mekele prepared to return to government control.

Pro-government forces – namely troops from neighboring Eritrea and militias from Ethiopia’s Amhara region – remain in Tigray, despite the peace deal requiring the withdrawal of external fighters.

The war began in November 2020 when Abiy deployed troops to Tigray after accusing the region’s dissident rulers of orchestrating attacks on army bases.

ALSO READ: Timeline: The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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