Ethiopia: Tigray rebels ready to participate in talks led by the African Union

There is hope in Tigray. Ethiopian rebels announced on Sunday that they are ready to participate in a “robust peace process” under the auspices of the African Union (AU), intended to end nearly two years of armed conflict in this northern region of Ethiopia.

“We are ready to respect an immediate and mutually accepted cessation of hostilities, in order to create a favorable atmosphere”, reads a statement from the authorities of the rebel region.

The move comes as diplomatic efforts intensify to find a peaceful solution to the conflict after renewed fighting last month broke a truce established in March.

A welcome announcement

The Ethiopian government has long insisted that any peace process must be negotiated under the auspices of the AU, which is based in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. But the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had until then always rejected the mediation of the AU special envoy to the Horn of Africa, the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, denouncing his “closeness” to the former. Ethiopian minister Abiy Ahmed.

African Union (AU) Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat hailed “a unique opportunity” to end nearly two years of war and called on “both sides to work urgently to establish a ceasefire, to engage in direct negotiations, as part of a process under the auspices of the AU, including agreed international partners “.

The Ethiopian Minister of State for Peace, Taye Dendea, on Twitter called the TPLF announcement a “positive development”, insisting that “the so-called TDF (Tigray Defense Forces) must be disarmed before the start of the talks. peace. Free position! “.

The TPLF announcement, which coincides with the Ethiopian New Year, does not mention preconditions, but the Tigrinya rebels say they want a “credible” peace process, with “acceptable” mediators on both sides, plus international observers.

Confidential meetings

Earlier this month, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael offered a conditional truce by providing “unhindered 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 to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he also called for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from all over Ethiopia and Tigray.

Sunday’s statement said that a negotiating team that includes Getachew Reda, the TPLF spokesman, and General Tsadkan Gebretensae, former chief of staff of the Ethiopian army now in the central military command of Tigray, is “ready to be deployed without procrastination”.

Last month, Debretsion Gebremichael revealed that two rounds of confidential one-on-one meetings had been held between senior civilian and military officials, the first recognition by both warring sides of direct contact.

Read also: More than 750 civilians killed in northern Ethiopia between July and December 2021

Fighting has raged on several fronts in northern Ethiopia since hostilities resumed on August 24, with both sides accusing each other of breaking an agreed truce in March. Abiy Ahmed had sent troops to Tigray in November 2020 to overthrow the TPLF, after what he considered attacks on federal army camps. But the rebels had managed to recapture most of Tigray in June 2021, before the fighting reached a stalemate.

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