By Addis Standard Staff
Addis Abeba – The African Union, the U.S. government, the United Nations, and the European Union have responded with acceptance a statement released on 11 September by the Tigray regional state government announcing its stance that it was “prepared to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the Africa Union.”
The regional government has also named Getachew Reda, advisor of the Tigray region’s president, Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), and Lt. Gen. Tsadikan Gebretinsae, former chief of staff of the Ethiopian defense forces, as its negotiation team “ready to be deployed without delay.”
The federal government and Tigray regional state government have both maintained differences over the role of the AU as mediator; the former said that the continental block was the “only channel and has been reiterated in no uncertain terms” to the international diplomatic community; while the later said that “in the considered view of the People and Government of Tigray the leadership of the African Union Commission has yet to redeem its failures and restore our trust.”
“Mutually agreed cessation of hostilities”
Unlike the 24 March statement in which the Tigray regional government reciprocated the Ethiopian federal government’s unilateral decision for “a humanitarian truce“ with its own unilateral decision to abide by an “immediate cessation of hostilities”, Sunday’s statement stated that the Tigray regional government was ready “to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities in order to create a conducive atmosphere.”
“We expect a credible AU-led Process. This peace process will also include mutually acceptable mediators,” the statement said, further outlining additional asks from the regional government that the AU-led peace process to include “international observers who help the parties build mutual trust, instill confidence in the peace process, and support and oversee the implementation of commitments; and international experts to provide necessary guidance and advise on the integrity of the peace process.”
The Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was the first to respond on the same day welcoming the “announcement by the Regional Government of Tigray of its commitment for a peaceful resolution of the conflict as well as its willingness to participate in an African Union-led peace process.”
The statement from the regional government of Tigray came the wake of the ongoing visit by U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Ambassador Mike Hammer who has allegedly brokered a meeting between the federal and Tigrayan authorities in Djibouti. However, both the federal and the regional governments did not issue official statements on the alleged meeting.
In its statement released shortly after that of the AU’s, the U.S. government said it encouraged “a robust process that responds to the Government of Ethiopia’s declared readiness to go “anywhere, anytime” for the sake of peace and the TPLF’s statement today that they are ready to end the fighting and seek to resolve outstanding issues through dialogue. International partners stand ready to support this process. Eritrea and others should cease fueling the conflict.”
Subsequent to the statement from US Department of State, António Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General, welcomed “the announcement today by the Regional Government of Tigray of its readiness to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities and to peacefully resolve the conflict in northern Ethiopia.” The U.N. further said the SG was “encouraged by the stated willingness of the Regional Government of Tigray to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union (AU).”
Furthermore, Secretary General Guterres called on “the parties to seize this opportunity for peace and to take steps to end the violence definitively and opt for dialogue,” and encouraged them “to engage actively with the AU-led process in good faith and without delay and to create conducive conditions for the talks to take place.”
Currently on a visit to Kenya, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, was the latest to recognize the statement from Tigray as an “opportunity” which “should be seized by all. Now.”
Chronology on past unilateral cessation of hostilities
On 24 March this year, the Federal Government announced its decision to declare an indefinite humanitarian truce. “Cognizant of the need to take extraordinary measures to save lives and reduce human suffering, the Government of Ethiopia hereby declares an indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately,” the federal government said.
On 25 March, the Tigray regional state government responded with its decision to implement a cessation of hostilities effective immediately if the people of Tigray receive humanitarian aid equivalent to their needs within a reasonable time frame. “The Government of Tigray will do everything it can to make sure that this cessation of hostilities is a success,” the statement said.
On 27 June the the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) announced the appointment of seven member team that is expected to conduct peace talks with Tigrayan authorities. Accordingly a decision was passed for the team be chaired by Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and composed of six other members namely: Ambassador Redwan Hussien, PM Abiy Ahmed’s security advisor, Gedion Timothewos (PhD), Minister of Justice, Temesgen Tiruneh, Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Lt. Gen. Berhanu Bekele, Chief of Military Intelligence office (former head of the Republican Guard), Ambassador Hassan Abdulkadir, Coordinator, Prosperity Party’s Democratic System Office, and Dr. Getachew Jember, Deputy President of Amhara regional state.
The ruling party’s team was announced shortly after the Minister of Justice Gedion said that the ruling party’s executive and central committee meetings “put a direction” to peace alternatives “in a manner that respects the constitution and national interest” of the country and “facilitated by the African Union.”
On 12 July the seven-member peace negotiation team held its first meeting. “The peace alternative main committee held its meeting today 12 July. [The committee) has discussed and decided on its own course of action and code of ethics for the discussions to be held under the leadership of the African Union. By organizing sub-committees it has also divided responsibilities and began its work,” Amb. Redwan said.
Subsequently, On 18 July, Getachew Reda, has said that Tigray “will be ready to send a delegation to Nairobi… and have established a team with high-ranking members.”
The positive steps taken by both sides received widespread support from the international community, an increase in the humanitarian supply to the Tigray region, and increase in diplomatic engagement, leading to a between Ambassador Redwan Hussien and Dr. Gedion Timotheos and Horn of Africa Special Envoys of the UN, the EU & the USA as well as Ambassadors of US, France, Germany, Italy and UK to Ethiopia. Subsequently, the Ethiopian government said it was “ready to talks anytime, anywhere,” and that “talks should begin without preconditions”.
The diplomats were also “allowed for a round trip to Mekelle”, which resulted in a visit on 02 August by the special envoys of the US, EU and the UN as well as Ambassadors to Mekelle, marking the first high-level visit by western countries to Mekelle, the capital of the besieged Tigray regional state.
Upon their return from Mekelle, the envoys issued a statement on the same day in which they said they “agree that a swift restoration of electricity, telecom, banking, and other basic services in Tigray is essential for the people of Tigray, as recognized in earlier discussions with the Ethiopian Government. Tigray Regional President Debretsion provided the international community a letter to be passed to the Government of Ethiopia providing security guarantees for those who need to work to restore services. With this security assurance there should be no obstacle for the restoration of services to begin.”
But on 04 August, the Ethiopian government expressed its “dismay” at what it said was the “course chosen by team of envoys & Ambassadors in handling the matter when in Mekelle.” The federal government also accused the high level western diplomats of failing “to press for unequivocal commitment for peace talks, rather indulging in appeasement and fulfilling preconditions placed by the other party.”
The sweeping rebuttal was viewed by many as potentially casting a shadow of doubt over the future prospects of the peace talk progress seen after the 24 March unilateral declaration of the cessation of hostilities by each side.
The small progress towards a peaceful resolution of the war that began in November 2020 was dealt with a severe blow when the two sides resumed militarized hostilities on 24 August.
The federal government blamed Tigrayan forces for the resumption of the militarized hostilities. “Leaving aside all the peace options presented by the government, the terrorist group, the TPLF…launched an attack this morning in the eastern front in Biso Ber, Zobl and Tekulesh directions starting from 5 AM…” the statement said, adding the with the measure, Tigrayan forces “officially broke the ceasefire.” The statement from the federal government came a few hours after the Tigrayan forces released their own statement accusing the federal forces, as well as various Amhara special forces, Wollo Fano and militia of launching a military attack “this morning at 5 AM…in the direction of Chobe Ber, Janora, Yalo, Alamata, Bala and Biso Ber.”
The militarized hostilities of the last 20 days has already been condemned by local and international stakeholders including the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission , The United States, Turkey, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and AU Chairperson, Moussa Faki, among others.
While there is no official statement from the federal government on the latest development with regard to the ongoing military confrontations, on 07 September, Tigray regional state authorities accused Eritrean forces of shelling the “outskirts of Adigrat the whole day.” Tigray based media also reported that five civilians were killed and 14 more were injured after heavy shelling by Eritrean forces of Adigrat and its environs on 08 September.
As of the publishing of this news, the federal government has not commented on Sunday’s statement from the Tigray regional state government. AS