Ethiopian government, Tigray agree on “permanent” end to 2-year civil war

Ethiopia’s warring sides formally agreed during negotiations in South Africa Wednesday to a “permanent cessation of hostilities” in a two-year conflict whose victims could be counted in the hundreds of thousands.

African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president who has facilitated the peace talks in South Africa along with former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Deputy President of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, discussed the agreement during a news briefing

Obasanjo said Ethiopia’s government and authorities in the country’s northern Tigray region have agreed to an “orderly, smooth and coordinated disarmament.” Other key points included in the agreement were “restoration of law and order,” he said, as well as “restoration of services” and “unhindered access to humanitarian supplies.”

“It is now for all of us to honor this agreement,” said the lead negotiator for Ethiopia’s government, Redwan Hussein. Lead Tigray negotiator Getachew Reda expressed similar sentiment, and noted that “painful concessions” have been made.

The civil war, which marks two years on Friday, saw abuses documented on either side. “The level of destruction is immense,” Redwan said. Although a previous agreement led to a five-month truce earlier this year that brought some humanitarian relief efforts to the Tigray region, reports of fighting started to circulate again at the end of August.

Eritrea, whose soldiers are believed to have fought alongside Ethiopia since the start of the civil war in 2020, was notably not part of the peace talks. It’s not immediately clear to what extent its government, which has long considered Tigray rebels a threat, will respect the agreement. Eritrea’s information minister didn’t reply to questions.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the Eritrean Defense Forces and the ruling party over the country’s involvement in the war, as Eritrean forces have been blamed for some of the conflict’s worst abuses, including gang-rapes, and witnesses have described killings and lootings by Eritrean forces even during the peace talks. On Wednesday, a humanitarian source said several women in the town of Adwa reported being raped by Eritrean soldiers, and some were badly wounded. The source, like many on the situation inside Tigray, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Ethiopia Tigray Crisis
Ethiopian military parade with national flags attached to their rifles at a rally organized by local authorities to show support for the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), at Meskel square in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Nov. 7, 2021.

AP Photo, File

Forces from Ethiopia’s neighboring Amhara region have also been involved in the conflict, but Amhara representatives were absent from peace talks as well. “Amharas cannot be expected to abide by any outcome of a negotiations process from which they think they are excluded,” said Tewodrose Tirfe, chairman of the Amhara Association of America.

A critical question is how soon aid can return to Tigray, where communications and transport links have been largely severed since the conflict began. Doctors have described running out of basic medicines like vaccines, insulin and therapeutic food while people die of easily preventable diseases and starvation. United Nations human rights investigators have said the Ethiopian government was using “starvation of civilians” as a weapon of war.

“We’re back to 18th century surgery,” a surgeon at the region’s flagship hospital, Fasika Amdeslasie, told health experts at an online event Wednesday. “It’s like an open-air prison.”

A humanitarian source said their organization could resume operations almost immediately if unfettered aid access to Tigray is granted. “It entirely depends on what the government agrees to … If they genuinely give us access, we can start moving very quickly, in hours, not weeks,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The conflict began in November 2020, less than a year after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with Eritrea, which borders the Tigray region. Abiy’s government has since declared leaders in the Tigray region, who led the government in Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy took office, a terrorist organization.

The brutal fighting, which also spilled into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions as Tigray forces tried to press toward the capital, was renewed in August in Tigray after months of lull that allowed thousands of trucks of aid into the region. According to minutes of a Tigray Emergency Coordination Center meeting on Oct. 21, seen by the AP, health workers reported 101 civilians killed by drone strikes and airstrikes, and 265 injured, between Sept. 27 and Oct. 10 alone.

In a speech Wednesday before the peace talks’ announcement, Ethiopia’s prime minster said that “we need to replicate the victory we got on the battlefield in peace efforts, too. We are finalizing the war in northern Ethiopia with a victory … we will now bring peace and development.”

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