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Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: Flights resume between Addis Ababa and Mekelle

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Families wept and kissed the tarmac at the main airport in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region as they reunited after being kept apart by war for more than 18 months.

The emotional scenes followed the resumption of commercial flights between the federal capital Addis Ababa and the regional capital Mekelle.

The city, which has a population of around 500,000, was largely cut off from the rest of the world during a brutal two-year war that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, and displaced millions of others.

The government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) finally signed a peace accord last month, opening the way for passenger flights to resume.

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TPLF-controlled Tigrai TV showed footage of passengers dropping to their knees and kissing the tarmac at the airport in Mekelle.

There were also emotional scenes at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, as people flew in from Tigray.

As telephone services had also been cut, some people had no contact with their relatives in Tigray for more than 18 months, and were anxiously waiting to find out whether they were still at home and safe.

They included 47-year-old Kahssay Hailu, who had been stranded in Addis Ababa since she came to the city to be with her daughter, as she prepared for her exams.

“I lived here, separated from my husband and child whom I love,” Mrs Kahssay told Reuters news agency, as she waited at the airport in Addis Ababa to catch her flight to Mekelle.

“When I heard of the news [of flights resuming], I fell to the ground and cried,” she added.

Another woman, 67-year-old Nigsti Hailemariam, said she had arrived in Addis Ababa in 2020 to help her pregnant daughter give birth.

“I came here to see my daughter who was giving birth. My plan was to stay just two weeks and then everything was shut down suddenly. It has been more than a year-and-a-half. I’m very happy that peace is returning, and excited that I am finally going home,” she told Reuters.

The war started after a massive fall-out between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the TPLF-controlled regional government.

Mr Abiy accused Tigrayan forces of attacking military bases and trying to overthrow him.

He responded by ordering air strikes, and sending troops to Tigray to dislodge the TPLF from power in the region.

The African Union (AU) brokered a deal between the two sides last month to end hostilities and to restore basic services in Tigray.

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