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Ethiopia has launched a new offensive against rebels in Tigray

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The north of Ethiopia is virtually cut off right now. In terms of information, it's a black hole, as one journalist recently put it.

CARA ANNA: Telecommunications are cut off, and there's a very, very little internet access.

MCCAMMON: Cara Anna is The AP's East Africa reporter.

ANNA: Very, very little - almost no humanitarian aid is now getting in. No medical supplies at least for the past month. No fuel for the past month. And then food warehouses are going empty.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Tigray region has been at the epicenter of an ethnic civil war for nearly a year now. And after a monthslong cease fire, the Tigray People's Liberation Front says the Ethiopian government has now launched a new offensive against them.

MCCAMMON: As the war drags on, the government is also tightening its scrutiny of the press. Our own correspondent, Eyder Peralta, recently had every piece of his equipment confiscated.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: My microphones my recorders - and I had to go from government office to government office, trying to get it back.

MCCAMMON: And he was asked to defend his past reporting, a sign, he says, of how things have changed from just a few years ago.

CORNISH: Back then, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government promised a new Ethiopia in which human rights and personal freedoms and press freedoms would be defended.

PERALTA: And the government official told me, look, right now we are fighting a war for the heart of Ethiopia, to keep this country together. And they feel that they're entitled to curb some of these freedoms to keep this country together, they say.

CORNISH: When I caught up with Eyder today, I asked him to describe where he is now as he advances closer to the conflict.

PERALTA: So I'm in Gondar, which is in the northern part of the country. And we've been moving slowly northward toward the front lines of this war. And, you know, just along the way, we've been talking to lots of people. And what I've heard is humans whose opinions and feelings have hardened. You know, at the center of this conflict is a centuries-old ethnic rivalry between Amharas and Tigrayans. So when you talk to regular people, they frame this war as existential. They're out to kill us, and we can't let them. And I've spoken to teenagers and old men who say that they have weapons and they're willing to fight to the death. But at the same time, you know, this is a war, and with it comes heartbreak. I saw, you know, one mom cry because her son - her beautiful son, she told me - took off in the middle of the night to join the war in a town called Debre Tabor today. I spoke to Deres Nega (ph). He's 64 years old, and seven of his family members were killed when rebels shelled his home. He lost four of his children and his wife. And as we talked in front of his house, he looked desolate. And I asked him, you know, why he thought Ethiopians were willing to kill each other. Let's listen.

DERES NEGA: (Speaking Amharic).

UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: He doesn't know why this war is ongoing, except his understanding is that Tigrayan are coming just to kill or destroy the Amharas. And he's saying no one was from the family or anybody was engaging in any active war, but he lost almost his entire family.

NEGA: (Speaking Amharic).

PERALTA: He says accept the reality and give his pain to God.

CORNISH: Help us better understand what is going on. What exactly is this Tigray rebel party trying to accomplish? Are they trying to pull away from Ethiopia or rule it?

PERALTA: I mean, look, they haven't said that. I think this is a complicated conflict that has, you know, roots that are centuries old. But I think if we can boil it down, this is a power struggle between Ethiopia's old government, which are the people - the Tigrayan party that rules this part of Ethiopia - and the new government.

CORNISH: I want to ask - and it may be too soon to ask this - but what are the prospects for a cease fire, a prospect for peace? I mean, Ethiopia's prime minister at one point won a Nobel Peace Prize, right?

PERALTA: Yeah, I don't think there are prospects in the near term. In fact, I mean, this week, the rebels say that the government started bombing them and that they launched a new ground invasion. Of course, I mean, if confirmed, this means that the unilateral cease fire that the government had declared earlier in the summer is totally off. I did speak to a member of Parliament who says that plans are underway toward a national dialogue. But at the moment, all I am hearing from all the parties in this conflict is bravado. And that doesn't bode well for peace.

CORNISH: I want to ask about the humanitarian situation because so many people have been displaced in this war already. What are the efforts in to get support to the parts of the country that are cut off? What have you heard?

PERALTA: Look - humanitarians say that the most dire conditions in this country are in the areas controlled by the rebels. The government has imposed a de facto blockade in the region, and the international community says that hundreds of thousands of people are living in famine-like conditions. And getting to the truth is difficult, Audie, because the government has also turned off the phones and the internet in the region. And we have also asked permission to enter the blockaded region. But so far, the government has denied our request.

CORNISH: And that's NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. He spoke to us on the ground in Ethiopia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.