PRETORIA, South Africa — Ethiopia’s belligerents have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities, an African Union special envoy said on Wednesday, after a two-year conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of victims.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, during the first briefing on the peace talks in South Africa, also said that the Ethiopian government and Tigray authorities have agreed on “an orderly, smooth and coordinated disarmament “. Other key points included “the restoration of public order”, he said, as well as “the restoration of services” and “unimpeded access to humanitarian supplies”.
“It is now up to all of us to honor this agreement,” said the Ethiopian government’s chief negotiator, Redwan Hussein. Tigray’s chief negotiator, Getachew Reda, expressed a similar sentiment and noted that “painful concessions” had been made.
The war, which marks two years on Friday, has seen documented abuses on both sides. “The level of destruction is immense,” Redwan said.
Eritrea, which fought alongside neighboring Ethiopia, was notably not part of the peace talks. It is not immediately clear to what extent his deeply repressive government, which has long viewed the Tigray authorities as a threat, will stick to the deal. Eritrea’s information minister did not respond to questions.
Eritrean forces have been accused of some of the worst abuses of the conflict, including gang rapes, and witnesses have described killings and looting by Eritrean forces even during the peace talks. On Wednesday, a humanitarian source said several women in the town of Adwa said they had been raped by Eritrean soldiers, and some were seriously injured. The source, like many on the situation inside Tigray, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Forces from Ethiopia’s neighboring Amhara region also fought those from Tigray, but Amhara representatives are not part of the peace talks. “Amharas cannot be expected to respect the results of a negotiation process from which they believe they are excluded,” said Tewodrose Tirfe, president of the Amhara Association of America.
A crucial question is how long aid will be able to return to Tigray, whose communications and transport links have been largely cut off since the start of the conflict. Doctors described the lack of basic medicines like vaccines, insulin and therapeutic food as people died of easily preventable diseases and starvation. United Nations human rights investigators have said the Ethiopian government is using “civilian starvation” as a weapon of war.
“We are back to the surgery of the 18th century,” a surgeon at the region’s flagship hospital, Fasika Amdeslasie, told health experts at an online event on Wednesday. “It’s like an open-air prison.”
A humanitarian source said their organization could resume operations almost immediately if unimpeded aid access to Tigray is granted. “It all depends on what the government agrees to…If they genuinely give us access, we can start acting very quickly, in hours, not weeks,” said the source, who spoke on the guise of anonymity because she was 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 the Tigray authorities, who ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy took office, a terrorist organization.
The brutal fighting, which also spilled over into neighboring Amhara and Afar regions as Tigray forces attempted to move towards the capital, resumed in August in Tigray after months of lull that allowed thousands of aid trucks to enter the area. According to the minutes of a meeting of the Tigray Emergency Coordination Center on October 21, seen by the AP, health workers reported 101 civilians killed by drone strikes and airstrikes, and 265 injured, between September 27 and October 10 only.
In a speech on Wednesday ahead of the announcement of the peace talks, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said that “we must also replicate the victory we have achieved on the battlefield in the peace efforts. We are ending the war in northern Ethiopia with victory…we will now bring peace and development.
Anna reported from Nairobi, Kenya