Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed spoke publicly for the first time on Tuesday about the possibility of peace talks with Tigrayan rebels, who have been fighting federal forces for 19 months. Abiy claimed his administration had set up a committee to look into the possibility of holding discussions with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), putting to rest rumors that secret talks were already underway.
“Negotiations are not easy to carry out. There is still much work to be done (before), and a committee has been formed to help. Abiy informed Ethiopian MPs that he would look into the matter. The committee, which will be led by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonen, will write a report outlining the preconditions for negotiations, he said.
The remarks come after the government declared an “indefinite humanitarian cease-fire” in March, allowing humanitarian aid to reach Tigray’s northernmost district for the first time since mid-December. According to the United Nations, the fighting has pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the verge of hunger, uprooted more than two million people, and left more than nine million people in need of food aid.
In reaction to rumors of discussions with the rebels, Abiy warned MPs, “Peace isn’t something you hide.” “We’re saying we want peace, but it doesn’t mean we’ll hold secret talks.” “There is no substance to secret negotiations,” he went on to say.
The contentious subject of western Tigray, a disputed region claimed by both Amharas and Tigrayans, is expected to come up during any negotiations. Western Tigray, which has been seized by Amhara forces since the war began in November 2020, is a “non-negotiable” section of Tigray, according to the TPLF. The TPLF said last week that “any permanent solution to the current crisis must be based on restoring the prewar status quo ante.” They called for “the complete and confirmed evacuation of all invading forces from every square inch of Tigrayan territory.”
The TPLF has already requested that Amhara military and Eritrean troops be removed from the region by the UN Security Council. The crisis started in November 2020, when the government sent federal soldiers to Tigray to get rid of the TPLF, which was the region’s former ruling party. As an excuse, the government said that rebels had attacked army barracks.
Fighting intensified in the second half of 2021, before reaching a stalemate after the TPLF staged a stunning resurgence in June, retaking Tigray and then moving into the neighboring areas of Afar and Amhara. During the fight, both sides have been accused of human rights crimes, including mass rapes and massacres.