After two years of brutal civil war, the Ethiopian government and the leadership of the northern Tigray region agreed on Wednesday to cease hostilities as part of a deal that offered a way out of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions in Africa’s second-most populous nation.
Senior officials from both sides clasped hands and grinned after signing an agreement to end hostilities in South Africa, after ten days of African Union-sponsored peace negotiations.
One day before the second anniversary of the commencement of the conflict, on November 3, 2020, when simmering tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the rebellious leaders of the country’s Tigray area erupted into bloodshed, the unexpected agreement was reached.
Mr. Abiy, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, first described the battle as a “law and order” effort that would be fast and even bloodless. However, it swiftly developed into a protracted struggle marked by many atrocities, including killings of civilians, gang rapes, and the use of famine as a weapon of war.
Getachew Reda, a prominent leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and Redwan Hussien, Mr. Abiy’s national security advisor, inked the agreement in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa.
It includes a variety of procedures for disarming combatants, allowing humanitarian assistance to enter Tigray — where five million people are in dire need of food — and stabilising Ethiopia.
The two parties declared in a joint statement, “We have decided to permanently quiet the weapons and terminate the two-year fighting in northern Ethiopia.”
However, mediators cautioned that this was only the beginning of what would likely be arduous discussions before a lasting peace could be accomplished. It was unclear how the terms of the agreement would be monitored or implemented. And negotiators emphasised that internal and external factors might still derail the process and plunge the nation back into conflict.
Mr. Abiy consented to the agreement at a period of military dominance, after weeks of sweeping military gains by his soldiers throughout Tigray with the assistance of ally forces from Eritrea, the northern bordering country.
But it also occurred against the background of stern warnings from the United States and the United Nations about the potential for additional crimes in a conflict already marred by severe injustices, such as ethnic cleansing.
Last month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned, “The situation in Ethiopia is getting out of control.”
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Oct. 21 that the scope of conflict in Ethiopia approaches that of Ukraine. She said that as many as 500,000 people had perished as a consequence of the conflict in Ethiopia, and that the United States is “very worried about the possibility of more mass crimes.”
As African Union-led peace attempts faltered this year, American officials arranged three covert talks between the two sides outside of Ethiopia. However, although this attempt resulted in a five-month humanitarian cease-fire, it also gave both sides the opportunity to resupply for the August round of hostilities.
Then, American officials, who talked on the condition of anonymity due to the delicacy of the situation, said that they were contemplating implementing penalties, which had been approved by President Biden the previous year, in an attempt to get the combatants to cease fighting. However, they wanted to give the negotiations a chance.
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, hailed Wednesday’s agreement as a “essential step toward peace.”
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said, “The United States is committed to supporting this African Union-led initiative.”
Mr. Abiy lauded it as a “monumental” agreement, attempting to position it as part of a bigger government-led “reforms” agenda. Ethiopia’s ambassador to Kenya, Bacha Debele Buta, tweeted that “Ethiopia has won” and that the federal government would oversee Tigray “via a command post.”
Last Monday, the World Health Organization reported that Tigray had ran out of essential medications, like as vaccinations and antibiotics. It was said that doctors had resorted to using rags to treat wounds.
In a joint statement made on Wednesday, the administration of Mr. Abiy pledged to work with humanitarian organisations “to continue expediting supplies to people in need.”
Whether or if this occurs, and how quickly, might be an early measure of both parties’ commitment to peace.