November 4 marks two years since war broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region between Tigrayan forces and the federal government and its regional allies, including neighboring Eritrea.
Analysts say the war has left hundreds of thousands of people dead, millions displaced, and a trail of atrocities and war crimes on both sides. But a truce announced late Wednesday after South African-hosted peace talks by the African Union has raised hopes that fighting could end.
Ethiopia’s government and the Tigray rebel group have agreed to end the two-year conflict after a week of talks in South Africa.
Speaking after the agreement, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo said the deal marked a new dawn for Ethiopia.
“The two parties in the Ethiopian conflict have formally agreed to a cessation of hostilities as well as to systematic, orderly smooth and coordinated disarmament, restoration of law and order, restoration of services, unhindered access to humanitarian supplies, protection of civilians, especially women, children and other vulnerable groups among other areas of agreement,” Obasanjo said.
The agreement comes after 10 days of talks in Pretoria, South Africa, mediated by the African Union, led by Obasanjo.
The deal calls for the Tigray rebel group to lay down their arms in exchange for reintegration and the return of the national army to the region. With mistrust on both sides, experts say this part of the agreement may be difficult to fulfill.
The warring factions also agreed to end hate speech that has fueled much of the two-year-old conflict.
The agreement is seen as a major breakthrough after the warring sides failed to come to the table to find ways to end the war that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands and displaced millions.
Obasanjo said the agreement would be followed through.
“The agreement also takes care of assurance of security for all concerned within and outside Ethiopia. Monitoring, supervising, and verification of implementation will be carried out by the AU high-level panel,” Obasanjo said. “For what we have achieved, delegates from both sides working together among yourselves, we salute you, we commend you and we congratulate you.”
Tigray rebel group spokesperson Getachew Reda warned of spoilers who would try to sabotage the peace deal.
Reda said his side has made a painful concession and called on the international community to ensure the peace agreement is implemented.
Speaking at an online press briefing organized by Refugees International, Solomon Mezgebu, president of the Tigray Human Rights Forum, said this time Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will have to abide by the agreement.
“Unfortunately, Abiy is determined and his main motive for going to this negotiation, as he has demonstrated for the last two years, is buying time, buying time, buying time,” said Mezgebu. “He’s stuck now because there are weaknesses. It’s now a formal process. It’s now a very structured process. Heavyweight folks are involved within this process. So, this is a very good start, even though I don’t have high hopes. But it’s a very good start because the world is witnessing who is saying what and who is doing what. So, I think it would have some pressure. It would still be dictated about what’s happening on the ground. Abiy would continue to buy time, to try to buy time. I’m not sure he would have those opportunities again.”
In a statement, Abiy Ahmed said the agreement was “monumental” in moving Ethiopia forward. He said his government was committed to implementing the agreement.
Ethiopian forces in the two-year conflict have received military backing from Eritrea to push forces from Tigray and concerns were raised about how Asmara will react to the agreement.
Abdullahi Halakhe is the Refugees International senior advocate for East and Southern Africa. He says the influence of Eritrea in the conflict in the north of Ethiopia cannot be wished away.
“I think that is probably one of the weaknesses of this peace process, the way it’s structured. I mean, I can appreciate the wisdom behind it,” Halakhe said. “Part of it was to get Abiy away from Eritrea so that you could create a symmetry where now Abiy feels like he has to negotiate. But the danger there is really that Abiy is practically beholden to Asmara. His military is fairly decimated. He doesn’t have a ton of forces apart from the conscription and also the funded militia. So, it’s a very high-wired position that has been taken by the international community, particularly the United States. So, we are really stuck with Asmara for the foreseeable future.”
Ethiopian forces and the Tigray rebel group reached a similar agreement to end the fighting earlier this year, but the two sides resumed fighting in August, breaking an almost five-month-long cease-fire.