In Tigray, Ethiopia, long phones are ringing again, causing grief

NAIROBI – For a year and a half, calls from people trying to survive one of the world’s worst wars went dead. Now that phone lines are being restored in parts of Ethiopia tigray region after a Fragile Peace Agreementsome Tigrayans are relieved while others mourn.

“I was afraid of receiving calls,” said a Tigrayan man living in Norway, who like others spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against his relatives. “You want to speak to your family but you don’t know what stories you will hear about who is still alive.”

The conflict between Ethiopian and allied forces against the Tigray side is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of people since late 2020, according to the United Nations and the United States, citing scientific research. The UN Secretary-General said more people died in this conflict than in Ukraine.

Only now are many Tigrayans beginning to know the fate of their loved ones as phone lines are reconnected in some areas that have returned to the control of the Ethiopian federal government.

On December 10, Norway’s Tigrayan spoke to his father and siblings in the central city of Adwa for the first time since June 2021.

“I didn’t know if they were still alive, so hearing their voices was a shock,” he said. “I didn’t know where to start. I had to hang up and call them back later. … It was really special.”

But the call also brought painful news: his family told him that seven neighbors in their home village, 30 kilometers south of Adwa, had been killed after Ethiopian and allied forces from neighboring Eritrea seized control of the country in October, just days earlier Territory peace agreement was signed.

In recent days, social media has been inundated with posts from Tigrayans saying they have learned of the deaths of their loved ones. The most prominent was the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“I was informed that my uncle was murdered by the Eritrean army,” he told journalists last week. “I spoke to my mom and she was really devastated because he was the youngest in her family and almost the same age as me, a young uncle.”

Tigray’s phone, internet and banking services were initially disrupted for the region of more than 5 million people as the conflict began. They were restored in some areas in early 2021 when the federal government attempted to assert control, but were cut back again when Tigray forces retook most of the region in June 2021.

The communication blackout is “the longest uninterrupted shutdown in the world,” according to internet rights group Access Now. The Ethiopian government, which has banned journalists from traveling to Tigray, claims the closure was necessary for security reasons.

Human rights experts said the blackout helped fuel abuses by troops confident their crimes would remain hidden from the outside world. All sides have been charged Atrocities, particularly by Eritrean forces who waged a campaign of killings, gang rapes and forced starvation and stay in parts of Tigray. Eritrea was not a party to the peace agreement and remains a major challenge to its implementation.

The terms of the deal, signed in South Africa on November 2, commit the Ethiopian government to restoring basic services to Tigray. After months of restrictions, humanitarian aid is arriving again and several locations have been reconnected to the national grid. Limited banking services have returned in some places this week.

But areas under the control of Tigray forces, such as the regional capital Mekele, are still cut off from the outside world by telephone. And even in areas where phone lines have been restored, the connection is unstable, with calls often not going through.

A Tigrayan living in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa said he spoke to his father in the Tigray city of Shire last Friday. It was the first time they spoke to each other since May 2021.

“We were very worried about our families, so it was very good to talk to him,” he said. “At the same time, we are very sad to hear that some of our relatives died in the war. It’s not full happiness. I found out that two people had died from my father. One couldn’t find any medication, the other didn’t tell me. It was very difficult to ask him that.”

Meanwhile, Tigrayans with family members in areas still under Tigray Forces control still await hearing from relatives, with anticipation mixed with fear.

“Peace is good but I still haven’t been able to speak to my parents,” said a Tigrayan official in Addis Ababa. “They live near Adigrat and Zalambessa. There were a lot of Eritrean troops there so I fear what happened to them during the recent fighting.”

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/12/21/long-cut-phones-ring-again-in-ethiopias-tigray-bring-grief/ In Tigray, Ethiopia, long phones are ringing again, causing grief

Sarah Y. Kim

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