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Civil war hangs over Ethiopia's Tigray region where many face famine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's turn now to a crisis in another part of the world that's been going on now for almost a year. We're talking about the Civil War in Ethiopia. This past week, the country faced widespread condemnation after it expelled several top United Nations humanitarian officials. Those officials warned that parts of the country, which is in East Africa, were on the verge of famine. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and he is with us now. Eyder, thanks so much for joining us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And tell us what you're seeing and hearing.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, as you mentioned, this has been a huge week for Ethiopia. First, in New York, when in the middle of a Security Council meeting, Ethiopia's ambassador and the U.N. secretary general had a tense confrontation. Ethiopia accused U.N. workers of helping rebels in the country, and the secretary general said, prove it. He was angry, and he said that the only thing the U.N. is trying to do in Ethiopia is save lives.

And here in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was inaugurated to start a five-year term. I was out at Meskel Square, where, for the occasion, the government erected this beautiful stage with these huge gold ribbons that float three stories high. And the message written huge behind the stage is, a new beginning. If you saw that, you would think that everything is fine in Ethiopia, but talking to the people who were passing by the stage, it was the war that they were thinking about. We spoke to people who supported the war, but most of the people we spoke to, they were tired, and they wanted this conflict to end. Tamu Shatallah (ph) told me that it hurts because this is a war between brothers. Let's listen.

TAMU SHATALLAH: Between brothers - it is between sisters. No result (ph).

HATALESH GABESA: (Speaking Amharic).

PERALTA: And that is Hatalesh Gabesa. She's 60. She was coming from church, and she says she hopes that this new beginning means peace, that peace, she said, is more important than everything else.

MARTIN: You know, Eyder, information from the war zone is very hard to come by. What do we know about what's happening there?

PERALTA: I mean, look, let's start with a bit of context, and this is a war between Ethiopia's new rulers and its old ones, who were based in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. And Ethiopia is huge. It's a country of 115 million people. And this war started in the Tigray region, but now it has expanded south and east to neighboring states. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians have been displaced in those new regions, and the government has instituted a de facto blockade in the places controlled by the rebels.

And I wish, Michel, that I could be more definitive with what is happening. But the government has cut electricity and cell service in the rebel-held region, so getting information is difficult. And we've also asked the government for permission to go into Tigray. They've declined. But we are, however, headed into some of the war fronts in the coming days, and we are hearing reports that the government has launched a new offensive against the rebels in those regions.

MARTIN: Eyder, before we let you go, where do things stand now between Ethiopia and the international community?

PERALTA: There are no signs of a resolution. U.N. officials are still expelled, and the U.N. says that there's simply not enough aid being allowed into Tigray. Last week, 80 trucks were allowed to travel, but the U.N. says that they need at least 100 trucks a day to try to stop Ethiopians from starving.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Eyder, thank you so much for joining us.

PERALTA: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF HNNY'S "MONTARA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.