Conflict in Tigray takes positive turn as rebels begin handing over weapons
Tigrayan rebels in northern Ethiopia have begun handing over their heavy weapons as part of an agreement signed more than two months ago to end the grueling conflict in the region. The handover, which took place in the town of Agulae and was overseen by a monitoring team comprising members of both sides and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is a key part of the peace agreement that was signed on November 2nd. The terms of the agreement include disarming rebel forces, restoring federal authority in Tigray, and reopening access and communication to the region, which had been cut off since mid-2021.
The conflict in Tigray broke out in November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed deployed the army to arrest Tigrayan leaders who had been challenging his authority for months and whom he accused of attacking federal military bases. Fighting quickly escalated, leading to a humanitarian crisis and causing over two million people to be displaced, leaving more than 13.6 million people dependent on humanitarian aid in northern Ethiopia, according to the UN.
The peace agreement signed in November sought to end the fighting and return the region to stability. The handover of heavy weapons is seen as a major step towards the implementation of the agreement, with Tigray People’s Liberation Front spokesman Getachew Reda stating that it is part of their commitment to the peace deal. He said in a tweet on Wednesday “Tigray has handed over its heavy weapons as part of its commitment to implementing the #Pretoria agreement.” He further said “We hope & expect this will go a long way in expediting the full implementation of the agreement.”
During the ceremony, Mulugeta Gebrechristos, a representative of the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) noted that the start of the disarmament process would play a major role in restoring peace. In a speech broadcast on the local Tigrai TV, he said, “We are operating with the belief that if we are to have peace, all things that open the door for provocation must not be there. Peace is vital for us all.”
This was echoed by Aleme Tadesse, a representative of the Ethiopian army, who said “We are all [part of] one Ethiopia. Both us and the TDF have moved from our respective defensive positions in peace, understanding and love.”
It’s worth mentioning that, A November 12th deal on the implementation of the agreement said the disarmament of heavy Tigrayan weapons would take place at the same time as the withdrawal of foreign and non-federal forces. Even though neighbouring Eritrea supported the Ethiopian army in fighting in the region, Asmara did not participate in the Pretoria talks.
An Ethiopian government delegation, including the prime minister’s national security adviser Redwan Hussein and several ministers, visited Mekelle on December 26th, marking a major step in the peace process. A few days later, on December 29th, Ethiopian federal police entered Mekelle for the first time in 18 months.
While the fighting has stopped since November’s peace deal, the rebels claiming to have disengaged 65 percent of their fighters from the front lines. However, Tigrayans have denounced the “atrocities” they say have been committed by Eritrea’s army and the forces of Ethiopia’s neighbouring Amhara region, which have supported the federal army in the conflict. Tigrayan authorities, as well as residents and aid workers who spoke to the AFP news agency, accuse them of looting, rape, executions and abductions of civilians. With access to Tigray restricted, it is impossible to independently verify the situation on the ground, including the presence of Eritrean forces.
The precise toll of the conflict, which was largely fought amid media restrictions, is unknown. The International Crisis Group think tank and rights group Amnesty International have described it as “one of the deadliest in the world.” The UN stated that it plunged hundreds of thousands of people into near-famine conditions.
Humanitarian operations have been ramped up since the peace deal, but the amount of food and medical aid being delivered remains far below the enormous needs. Mekelle was connected to the national power grid on December 6th, and Ethiopia’s main bank CBE said on December 19th that it was resuming operations in some towns, and telephone communications with the region have begun to be restored.
In conclusion, the handover of heavy weapons by Tigrayan rebels is seen as a major step towards the implementation of the peace agreement signed in November and is a positive development for restoring stability and peace in the region. However, more work needs to be done to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict and ensure that justice is served for the atrocities committed. The international community should continue to monitor the situation closely and provide assistance to ensure that the people of Tigray can rebuild their lives and move towards a more peaceful and prosperous future.