Tigray rebels in Ethiopia have stated that they are willing to participate in peace talks that will be led by the African Union (AU). This removes a potential barrier to negotiations between the government and rebels that could put an end to the war that has been going on for almost two years. The declaration was made in the midst of a flurry of international diplomacy after violence broke out in northern Ethiopia for the first time in months last month, torpedoing a humanitarian truce that had been in place for months.
In a statement released by the government of Tigray’s northernmost and most remote district, they said, “The government of Tigray is willing to join a comprehensive peace process under the auspices of the African Union.” They also said, “We are prepared to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed-upon cessation of hostilities in order to create an environment that is conducive to negotiations.”
However, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had until now strongly opposed the role of the AU’s Horn of Africa envoy, Olusegun Obasanjo, protesting at his “proximity” to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethiopia’s government didn’t say anything right away, but it has been saying for a long time that any peace process must go through the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The statement that was released on Sunday, which coincided with the beginning of Ethiopia’s new year, did not make any mention of any preconditions for negotiations; however, it did say that it expected a “credible” peace process with “mutually accepted” mediators and foreign observers. Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of the TPLF, had proposed a ceasefire earlier this month with four conditions, one of which was “unhindered humanitarian access.” Another condition was that basic services be brought back to the war-torn region of Tigray.
In a letter to Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, he asked that Eritrean troops leave all of Ethiopia and that Ethiopian troops leave western Tigray, which is claimed by both Tigrayans and Amharas, the second-largest ethnic group in the country.
The announcement that Obasanjo’s term in office would be extended was made by Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, on Saturday. After meeting with Obasanjo, Faki put out a statement on Twitter in which he said, “I repeated my full confidence in him and encouraged his continued engagement with all parties and international actors to work toward peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and the region.”
Faki added that he had met with the visiting United States ambassador for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, on Saturday and had a conversation with him. Hammer’s New Year’s message to Ethiopians said, “May the parties in the conflict have the courage to choose talks over fighting and join an African Union-led process that leads to a lasting peace.”
Since hostilities were renewed on August 24, fighting has been raging on numerous fronts in northern Ethiopia, with both sides accusing the other of opening fire first and violating a truce that had been in place since March. The fighting began near Tigray’s southern border, but it has now moved to areas west and north of the initial skirmishes. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) accuses Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers of mounting a large coordinated operation on September 1.
The United Nations stated on Thursday that the fresh fighting has caused a halt to vitally needed relief delivery to Tigray, both by road and by air. This aid was sent to the region by both the Ethiopian Red Cross and the United Nations. Since the middle of December, assistance convoys had not been able to travel to Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, until the truce that took place in March.
In its first situation report since the most recent fighting started, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the violence was “already affecting the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people, including the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance.”