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Tracing Tigray’s path to peace: Uncertain future looms as Pretoria accord implementation drags on

In recent weeks, speculation regarding a potential resurgence of conflict in the region has emerged following skirmishes between Amhara and Tigray forces in towns such as Alamata and Korem (Photo: Tigray TV)

By Mihret G/kristos @MercyG_kirstos

Addis Abeba – When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his cabinet members sat face-to-face with a delegation led by Getachew Reda, President of the Interim Administration of Tigray, and senior officials of the TPLF on 09 February, 2024, the event reignited hopes for lasting peace in the war-torn region, signaling a potential turning point for the nation.

Despite its delayed arrival, many clung to the belief that this meeting, the first of its kind since the inception of Tigray’s interim administration a year earlier, could mark the first stride towards reconciliation and sustainable peace.

Yet, as the weeks unfolded post-meeting, the once bright prospects dimmed amidst a barrage of accusations and counterclaims over the adherence to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA), casting a shadow over the fledgling steps toward harmony.

A week after engaging in discussions with Prime Minister Abiy and his cabinet, President Getachew addressed what he termed as an allegation by the federal government that “the interim administration is collaborating with entities such as the Eritrean government and other regional elites to undermine the authority of the federal government.”

Dismissing the accusation, Getachew emphasized that “the primary agenda for the Tigray people is focused on the restoration of peace, with no alternative objectives beyond the repatriation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes.”

In a recent interview with Addis Standard, Redae Halefom, the head of the Tigray communication bureau, asserted, “In the capacity of the interim administration, it is imperative to clarify that no bilateral discussions have taken place between the Eritrean authorities and the Tigray Interim Administration.”

However, Redae stated, “It is essential to emphasize our commitment to fostering peaceful relations with all neighboring entities.”

The head of communications stressed it is crucial to differentiate between constructive dialogue and any potential mischaracterization.

“Entities raising inquiries of this nature should exercise discernment and refrain from exploiting such discussions for propagandistic purposes,” he emphasized. “Our primary objective remains the pursuit of stability and amicable relations in the interest of regional harmony.”

Despite the initial exchange, the disagreement between the two parties persisted.

Two weeks ago, the Tigray interim administration announced that talks on Pretoria accord implementation would be conducted “exclusively through AU panel,” thereby distancing itself from direct bilateral engagements with the federal government.

Redae contends that significant shortcomings have been observed in the disarmament and demobilization processes of ex-combatants, the failure to repatriate displaced individuals to their homes, and the inability to withdraw Amhara and Eritrean forces from Tigray.

“These deficiencies constitute key reasons for the interim administration’s decision to engage in discussions exclusively through an African Union panel with the federal government,” he disclosed.

This decision led to the convening of the First Strategic Review on the Implementation of the CoHA, which took place on 11 March, 2024, at the AU premises in Addis Abeba.

There are still some elements in the region seeking to incite war.”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

In a statement issued after the meeting, the African Union disclosed that the two parties agreed “to hold multifaceted consultations to advance peace, security, and stability in the Tigray region” and “to consult regularly.”

However, tensions between the Tigray interim administration and the federal government continue to escalate even after the First Strategic Review on the Implementation of the CoHA.

In a statement issued last week, the TPLF has raised concerns regarding what it termed as “the erosion of trust” with the federal government, citing the inadequate implementation of key provisions outlined in the Pretoria agreement as the cause.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Abiy, in discussions with representatives from various communities in Tigray last week, asserted that “there are still some elements in the region seeking to incite war.”

He implored the assembly to take measures to prevent these “elements” from triggering another cycle of war in the region.

Hopes diminishing amidst rising tensions

The recently published 2024 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community has underscored the potential for a renewal of conflict stemming from lingering territorial disputes.

According to the report, despite the peace agreement in November 2022 between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigrayans, the persistence of unresolved territorial matters poses a significant risk of reigniting hostilities.

In recent weeks, speculation regarding a potential resurgence of conflict in the region has emerged following skirmishes between combatants and local militia forces in towns such as Alamata.

Additionally, reported military confrontations between Amhara and Tigray forces have occurred in the vicinity of Korem town.

Yemane Kiflemariyam, head of the Ofla district located in southern Tigray, provides an overview of the current situation in the area.

He noted that recent attacks by Amhara forces on civilians have been particularly pronounced in Ofla and Zata districts.

According to him, a significant portion of the Raya Azebo district is presently under the control of Amhara forces, encompassing areas such as Alamata, Raya Chercher, Ofla, Korem, Zata, and Raya Alamata.

Despite claims, Yemane asserted, “There have been no attacks initiated by Tigray against the Amhara forces.”

Chaired by Temesgen Tiruneh, Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia, a committee composed of representatives from the Amhara and Tigray regions recently convened for its inaugural meeting. The Committee’s primary objective is to monitor and report any potential violations of the Algiers Agreement by Eritrean forces, particularly in terms of territorial occupation (Photo: ENC)

Certain opposition parties in Tigray, however, leveled accusations against the interim administration and the TPLF, alleging their preparation for another war.

Dejen Mezgebe (PhD), chairperson of the Tigray Independence Party (TIP) and a prominent figure in the opposition landscape in Tigray offers insights into the current circumstances prevailing in the region.

His analysis centers on the status of the implementation of the Pretoria peace agreement and addresses accusations of war incitement leveled against “elements in the region, including the TPLF,” thus shedding light on the ongoing situation in Tigray.

Dejen asserts that the TPLF has been delivering inflammatory speeches advocating for war at the highest levels of authority.

“This stance is perceived as an indication of the TPLF’s prioritization of maintaining its political power rather than focusing on the welfare of the populace, particularly in the absence of the full implementation of the Pretoria agreement,” he argued.

He underscores that the Tigray region is grappling with economic, political, and military diplomacy crises, rendering it vulnerable. “The people no longer possess the resilience to endure further conflict, given the occurrence of numerous tragic incidents.”

The opposition party leader argues that the monopolization of the interim administration by the TPLF is perceived as inequitable, necessitating attention and redress for a more balanced and representative governance structure.

“Our party holds the firm belief that the Pretoria peace agreement serves as a viable pathway towards peace,” Dejen stated. “However, there is a growing concern that the failure to implement this agreement could potentially lead to a resurgence of conflict.”

In a statement issued last week, the TPLF also rebutted the allegations leveled against the party, deeming the assertion that “it is preparing for another war” as unfounded.

Furthermore, the party underscored that such accusations are “part of a broader campaign aimed at undermining the unity and leadership of Tigray.” 

Nevertheless, Dejen emphasized that instead of actively pushing for the enforcement of the Pretoria agreement, there has been a noticeable preoccupation within the TPLF. He contends that this prolonged focus has revolved around strategizing means to regain political control.

In the pursuit of implementing the Pretoria agreement, Dejen stated that his party, along with other stakeholders, has consistently advocated for the establishment of an inclusive and representative regional interim council within the federal framework of Ethiopia.

 “This envisioned council would encompass the House of the Federation, the parliament, the executive arm, and other constitutional institutions, serving as a comprehensive platform to address Tigray-related concerns,” he explains. “However, the TPLF has demonstrated reluctance in forming such a council, thereby causing delays and citing the necessity for a supermajority as a prerequisite.”

Dejen emphasized the fundamental differences between opposition parties like TIP and the TPLF, articulating it as a dichotomy between “saving Tigray “and “saving TPLF”.

Furthermore, Dejen observed that the interim administration lacks inclusivity, with opposition parties such as TIP lacking representation within its structure.

Speculation concerning a potential resurgence of conflict in the region surfaces, even though the tragedy and trauma endured by the people of Tigray during the two-year war that concluded in November 2022 remain vivid in their collective memory.

Tesfay Alemu, whose name has been changed for privacy, is a dedicated nurse who has served at Ayder Referral Hospital for the past seven years.

Throughout this time, he has grappled with profound psychological trauma stemming from his experiences. These experiences are deeply rooted in bearing witness to the tragic ordeals endured by his patients amidst the war in the Tigray region.

“I have witnessed numerous instances of extraordinary suffering among the patients treated at our hospital, which serves as the primary referral facility in Tigray,” he remarked. “The cases we encounter present significant challenges, often involving children with injuries and disabilities resulting from drone attacks, individuals wounded by armed groups, and girls and women who have endured sexual violence.”

Tesfay says a considerable number of individuals have succumbed to the severity of their injuries, with drone attacks proving especially devastating. “Witnessing such distressing situations among our people has taken a heavy toll on me, and the cumulative burden of suffering has become overwhelming.”

Tesfay further emphasized the urgent need for peace, recognizing the devastating impact of war, particularly on the people of Tigray. He expressed concern over rumors circulating in his area and indications on social media hinting at the resurgence of conflict, highlighting the necessity of implementing the Pretoria agreement step by step in practice.

“Failure to do so could lead to renewed fears and potential consequences,” he warned.

Struggles, strife on the road to reconciliation

Redae agrees with Tesfay’s assessment, pointing out that further delays in the implementation of the Pretoria Agreement could prolong the suffering of the Tigray people, potentially resulting in tragic incidents, abductions, sexual violence, and other crimes.

He expressed concern that such circumstances might prompt people to act independently, beyond the control of the interim administration.

“Amidst an acute humanitarian crisis marked by ethnic cleansing, widespread displacement, and various criminal activities, Tigray has demonstrated resilience by prioritizing diplomatic solutions over hasty military actions,” he remarked, “The deliberate disarmament of 120,000 former fighters further undermines claims of war preparation, as it contradicts the logical course of action in such a scenario.”

Redae further highlighted that the strategic decision to disarm underscores Tigray’s commitment to promoting stability and peace rather than engaging in hostilities.

He stressed the importance of acknowledging the broader contextual factors and emphasized the region’s ongoing endeavors to address complex challenges through diplomatic channels while awaiting the comprehensive implementation of the Pretoria peace agreement.

The issue of displaced individuals during the war remains another point of contention between the Tigray interim administration and the federal government.

The deliberate disarmament of 120,000 former fighters undermines claims of war preparation.”

Redae Halefom, head of the Tigray communication bureau

According to the United Nations, there are over one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) currently residing in various camps across the region, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to return to their homes and villages.

Redae revealed that the federal government has not facilitated the return of any displaced individuals to their homes. “Instead, IDPs continue to reside in camps, enduring harsh conditions, and those who have attempted to return have been compelled to flee again due to ongoing violations by armed groups.”

Regional authorities also pointed out the perceived failure to effectively implement the Pretoria agreement, underscoring the presence of Eritrea and Amhara forces occupying Tigray’s territory.

They say emphasis should be given to the withdrawal of these forces, as the current situation has resulted in the plight of IDPs in camps, with reports of hunger and disease-related deaths.

In his discussion with representatives of Tigray’s communities, Prime Minister Abiy conveyed that a committee, comprised of representatives from the Amhara and Tigray regions, as well as the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the federal government, has been established to monitor and report on whether Eritrean forces are occupying any territory in violation of the Algiers agreement.

“Members of the committee will imminently visit the area and provide a firsthand account of the situation,” he disclosed.

According to media reports, the committee convened its first meeting at the end of the previous week.

However, in its latest statement, the TPLF asserted that the concerns of the Tigray people extend beyond the parameters outlined in the Pretoria peace agreement, as Tigray currently lacks representation in the federal government.

“Although the agreement emphasizes resolving political differences through dialogue, no such dialogue has commenced between the federal government and the Tigray interim administration. The absence of political discourse has perpetuated the crisis in Tigray,” reads the statement issued by the TPLF.

Redae also asserts that the Tigray issue surpasses the scope of the Pretoria peace agreement, necessitating accountability for genocide and restoration of pre-war conditions. AS

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