What slowed down the peace process in Ethiopia?  |  News of the conflict

What slowed down the peace process in Ethiopia? | News of the conflict

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – September 11 was the first day of the new Ethiopian calendar year in the war-torn country. But so far, little has changed in terms of the new year, as fighting broke out late last month between the federal government and rebels from Tigray, disrupting a five-month ceasefire.

At least 10 people were killed Tuesday in air raids on a residential area in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, as air strikes and drone bombings continue to kill, injure and terrorize civilians.

Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters and the Ethiopian army, who blame each other for the outbreak of violence on August 24, have engaged in some of the fiercest fighting this year, threatening to undermine prospects for peace talks.

“A total of eighteen dead [since fighting resumed] according to our calculations,” Dr. Fasika Amdeslasi, a surgeon at Mekelle’s largest referral hospital in Ayder, told Al Jazeera. “Then there are those who have received cuts, amputations and other injuries. None of them were armed fighters.”

United Nations calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the resumption of dialogue were ignored as Eritrean soldiers shelled towns and villages in central Tigray in fighting on several fronts. Eritrean troops have been fighting alongside Ethiopian forces since hostilities began in November 2020.

Meanwhile, Tigrayan forces have reclaimed territory in parts of the Afar and Amhara regions, leading to a new round of deaths and mass displacement. Special Forces from both regions are linked to the Ethiopian army and have recently been involved in hostilities.

The worsening situation likely contributed to US President Joe Biden’s decision earlier this month to extend sanctions against Ethiopian government officials for another day. year.

Millions of displaced people

The Ethiopian war in the north has already claimed the lives of tens if not hundreds of thousands over the past 22 months, with the country also devastated by fighting in the Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions to the west of the country.

Millions of people were forced to flee their homes and face starvation after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray, accusing the regional government of disobeying the federal government and attacking its army.

The conflict in Africa’s second most populous country has turned into a lingering quagmire for Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, as well as allied militias.

A man kneels to inspect a damaged playground after an airstrike in Mekelle. [File: Tigrai TV/Reuters TV via Reuters]

During the course of the war, civilians bear the brunt of atrocities, massacres, sexual violence and ethnic cleansing have contributed to Ethiopia reaching a world record of 5.1 million internally displaced people in 2021.

The advance of the Tigray forces south towards the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa was repulsed by an Ethiopian army counter-offensive supported by drones late last year, leading to a bloody stalemate and a lull in the fighting between war-weary warring factions.

The end of the ceasefire coincided with the end of the rainy season in the country, which again created the conditions for the resumption of hostilities and the maneuvering of tanks and military convoys in the highlands.

This is a far cry from what the diplomatic community hoped to see earlier this year. News of the unilateral truce announced by the Ethiopian prime minister in March was welcomed by everyone from the US and the European Union to China.

Further encouraging that a mediated settlement could be reached was Ethiopia’s pledge to allow humanitarian aid convoys to carry vital humanitarian supplies to the famine-stricken Tigray region, ending an eight-month humanitarian blockade.

A flurry of diplomatic efforts ensued with then-U.S. envoy to the Horn of Africa David Satterfield. travel in Addis Ababa to bolster a nascent peace talks initiative chaired by the African Union (AU) and overseen by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

“Indulgence in Appeasement”

The TPLF and the federal government have repeatedly stated their theoretical willingness to honor the ceasefire.

However, to ensure the duration of the ceasefire, Prime Minister Abiy had to agree to requests from intermediaries to restore disrupted power and telecommunications services, which have been missing from the Tigray region since November 2020. Publicly, high-ranking Ethiopian officials preferred to avoid the topic altogether throughout the entire five-month truce.

In a statement emailed to Al Jazeera, the World Health Organization said its humanitarian operations have been significantly limited due to disruptions.

An internally displaced person from the Amhara region.
An internally displaced person from the Amhara region speaks on the phone at a school in Addis Fana, where he is temporarily sheltered in the city of Dessi. [Eduardo Soteras/AFP]

“This has undermined the ability of the Regional Health Office and WHO to coordinate partners for an effective and coordinated response (no one has access to telecommunications and only the UN has access to the Internet). All meetings must be held in person.

But weeks before the recent round of fighting broke out, Redwan Hussain, national security adviser and lead negotiator for the Ethiopian government, tweeted a thread that appears to clarify his government’s position on the restoration of services.

Referring to the recent visit of US and EU envoys to Tigray and their subsequent call for “the speedy restoration of electricity, telecommunications, banking and other basic services in Tigray”, Hussein criticized foreign dignitaries for “failing to achieve unconditional commitments to peace talks, rather than through appeasement and fulfillment of the preconditions set by the other party.”

On the other hand, he meant his enemies in Tigray. For the TPLF, these remarks were taken to mean that bargaining was necessary to restore such services.

“They say basic services and unhindered humanitarian access should be part of the negotiations,” Tigray leadership adviser Fesseha Tessema told Al Jazeera. “We are ready for direct negotiations at any time, but we will not negotiate for basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

Getachev Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan authorities, has since said that a number of unannounced meetings were held in which Ethiopian officials made promises that they have not yet kept. The secrecy of the meetings further complicated the verification of the integrity of the negotiations.

While the restoration of services remains a sticking point, the secrecy of the alleged meetings and the lack of transparency and updates in the proceedings mean that additional factors that may have contributed to last month’s derailment of negotiations remain a matter of speculation.

The African Union remained largely silent on its envoy Obasanjo’s travels between the Tigray and Ethiopian capitals, leaving it unclear for months whether any progress had been made.

It is unclear if this was taken by surprise by the senior statesman, who has yet to publicly announce the resumption of hostilities. In mid-August, weeks before the bullets began to fly, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires a.i. in Addis Ababa Tracey Jacobson said she was still waiting for the former Nigerian president to announce the time and place of the talks, which are said to be take place in Kenya. .

There is also the issue of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerk, who opposes the idea of ​​a mediated settlement. This week, Eritrea began recruiting men aged 55 and under to join the armed forces and possibly fight in the war. Whether he might try to make any talks moot has yet to be clarified.

Diplomatic obstacles

The Tigrayans called for Obasanjo to be replaced as mediator, accusing him of a lack of impartiality and disagreeing with his proximity to Abiy. Obasanjo and Abiy were seen holding hands in June as they enjoyed a stroll through farmland in southern Ethiopia during a visit that was unrelated to his African Union negotiating mandate. Tigrayan’s distrust of the AU was also caused by the chairman’s statements in support of Ethiopia’s military actions.

But Ethiopia refused to consider the prospect of replacing the AU with another entity. Ethiopian officials, who regularly cited Western states as TPLF patrons, were visibly annoyed by foreign dignitaries visiting and posing for pictures with Tigrayan Regional President Debrecione Gebremichael. Ethiopian state media criticized the diplomatic contingent for taking a “selfie” on the runway of the Alula Aba Nega airport in Mekelle.

On Sunday, the day of the Ethiopian New Year, the Tigrayan authorities unexpectedly announced a change of position, expressing their readiness to participate “in an active peace process under the auspices of the African Union.”

The AC welcomed this move as a positive development. Following reports of yet another secret face-to-face meeting between the warring entities, this time in Djibouti, this raised hope that the stalled talks would soon resume. Since then, Addis Ababa has reciprocated, saying it also remains committed to the prospect of a mediated settlement.

The appointment of Uhuru Kenyatta, the former president of Kenya, as his country’s envoy of peace to Ethiopia is likely to further boost diplomatic efforts as Nairobi is a powerful player in the region.

A publicized return to the Roundtable could have prevented what has already become one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises from worsening.

However, navigating the round table talks will not be easy. Complaints range from the occupation of territories in the Afar and Amhara regions under Tigray control, to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people from western Tigray, territory that the Amhara region currently patrols and claims as its own.

And, of course, negotiations could again stall without an agreement to restore basic services to Tigray.

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