A glimmer of hope appears after two years of armed conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia. “The government of Tigray is ready to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union”said in a statement on Sunday, September 11, the Ethiopian rebels of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). “Furthermore, we are ready to respect an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities, in order to create a conducive atmosphere”added the rebels of this northern region of the country.
The announcement comes as diplomatic efforts intensify to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, after renewed fighting last month shattered a truce established in March.
The Ethiopian government has long insisted that any peace process must be negotiated under the aegis of the African Union (AU), headquartered in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. But the TPLF had until then always rejected the mediation of the AU special envoy to the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, denouncing its ” proximity “ with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, hailed a “unique opportunity” to end nearly two years of war, and called “the two parties to work urgently towards the establishment of a ceasefire, to engage in direct negotiations, within the framework of a process under the aegis of the AU, including international partners mutually agreed”.
Ethiopian Peace Minister Taye Dendea on Twitter called the TPLF announcement a“positive development”while emphasizing that “the so-called TDFs [Forces de défense du Tigré] must be disarmed before the start of the peace talks. Clear position! ».
United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres called in a statement “the parties to seize this opportunity for peace and to take measures to put a definitive end to the violence and opt for dialogue”. He assured that the UN was ready to support the AU-led peace process.
TPLF announcement, which coincides with Ethiopian New Year, does not mention preconditions, but Tigrayan rebels say they want a peace process “credible”with mediators “acceptable” by both parties, as well as international observers.
Earlier this month, the leader of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, offered a conditional truce providing for a “unimpeded humanitarian access” and the restoration of essential services in Tigray, which suffers from food shortages and a lack of electricity, communications and banking services. In a letter addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, he also called for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from all of Ethiopia and Tigray.
Sunday’s statement said a negotiating team including Getachew Reda, the TPLF spokesperson, and General Tsadkan Gebretensae, former Ethiopian army chief of staff now at the Tigray Central Military Command, is “ready to be deployed without delay”.
Last month, Mr Debretsion revealed that two rounds of confidential face-to-face meetings had taken place between senior civilian and military officials, the first acknowledgment by either warring side of direct contact.
Fighting has raged on several fronts in northern Ethiopia since the resumption of hostilities on August 24with the two sides accusing each other of breaking a truce agreed in March.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray in November 2020 to overthrow the TPLF, after what he saw as attacks on federal army camps. But the rebels had succeeded in June 2021 in retaking most of Tigray, before the fighting turned to a stalemate.