Ethiopian Rebels Propose Humanitarian Truce Amid Drought

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — An Ethiopian rebel group has proposed a humanitarian truce to facilitate assistance to hungry people in the country’s Oromia region as it warns of famine.

The Oromo Liberation Army has been engaged in a deadly conflict with the Ethiopian government, which has labeled it a terror group. The OLA statement on Wednesday came as the Horn of Africa faces severe drought due to multiple seasons of failed rains as well as conflict in some areas.

The OLA offered “to cooperate with a declaration of humanitarian truce to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance to affected areas,” the statement by spokesman Odaa Tarbii said. The group added it will open a humanitarian corridor if the truce fails, “or until such is negotiated as the government of Ethiopia drags its feet.”

A spokesman for Ethiopia’s federal government, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia’s federal states, is one of the most severely affected drought areas in the country.

The United Nations humanitarian agency this month said more than 20 million people in Ethiopia are estimated to be in need of assistance this year, nearly three-quarters of them women and children.

“Ethiopia is facing its worst drought in the past 40 years, and the impact is being felt in more areas in the south and east of the country,” the agency said, noting worsening levels of malnutrition and the deaths of more than 3 million livestock.

The OLA statement asserted that women and children are “dying of hunger every day.” Ethiopian officials have denied deaths from starvation.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared to criticize a U.N. effort to ship grain from Ukraine to Ethiopia, saying that “they want to portray a picture that we are being starved.”

But the head of a local non-governmental organization in one of the country’s worst affected areas, Konso zone, told The Associated Press hunger is widespread. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“Our area, Konso zone, was well known for its canals and terraces that helped to feed us for generations,” he said. “But this year, a severe drought has occurred that is claiming the lives of children and tens of thousands of cattle. We are not getting the aid that we want, and we are desperate for humanitarian aid.”