Parties to the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region have agreed to a ‘final cessation of hostilities’, the African Union mediator has said, just over a week after peace talks started in South Africa.
Former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, during the first briefing on the peace talks, also said on Wednesday that the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan authorities had agreed on “orderly, smooth and coordinated disarmament” as well as on “the restoration of public order”, “the restoration of services”. and “unhindered access to humanitarian supplies.”
The deal marked a new “dawn” for Ethiopia, he told a news conference.
The war, which erupted in November 2020, pitted regional forces in Tigray against the Ethiopian Federal Army and its allies, which include forces from other regions and neighboring Eritrea.
“It is now up to all of us to honor this agreement,” Ethiopian government chief negotiator Redwan Hussein said on Wednesday.
Tigray rebels welcomed the deal and said they had made concessions.
“We are ready to implement and accelerate this agreement,” said the head of their delegation, Getachew Reda.
“In order to address the suffering of our people, we have made concessions because we need to build trust.
“Ultimately, the fact that we have reached a point where we have now signed an agreement speaks volumes about the willingness of both parties to leave the past behind to chart a new course of peace,” Reda said.
For his part, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed his gratitude for the conclusion of the peace talks, saying that the government’s commitment to peace was unwavering and its commitment to the implementation of the agreement was strong.
The conflict, which at times spilled over from Tigray to neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, has killed thousands of peopledisplaced millions from their homes and left hundreds of thousands more on the brink of starvation.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the truce, according to a UN spokesperson.
“This is truly a welcome first step, which we hope can begin to bring some comfort to the millions of Ethiopian civilians who have truly suffered during this conflict,” the secretary’s spokesman told reporters. general, Stéphane Dujarric.
Mesenbet Assefa, an assistant professor of law at Addis Ababa University, called the deal a “huge political development”.
“There is great excitement [in Addis Ababa]Assefa told Al Jazeera.
The conflict has been devastating “socially, politically and economically and I think it’s great news to see that both sides…have agreed to a cessation of hostilities”, Assefa said.
“Although I think there are political differences between the two groups, in the last two years this war has not brought anything significant,” he added.
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Neither Eritrea nor regional forces allied with the Ethiopian army took part in the talks in South Africa and it was unclear whether they would abide by the agreement reached.
Eritrean forces have been accused of some of the the worst abuses of the conflictincluding gang rapes, and witnesses described killings and looting by Eritrean forces even during the peace talks.
Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Pretoria, said attention will now turn to how the deal is being implemented.
“We know that thousands of people have been killed, people have also been affected by the lack of food supplies and humanitarian aid in the Tigray region,” Miller said.
“It’s really been a vital sticking point in terms of some of the difficulties that have happened over the last couple of years,” she added.
Obasanjo, who heads the African Union mediation team, said the implementation of the deal would be overseen and monitored by a high-level African Union panel. He hailed the process as an African solution to an African problem and said the deal would restore humanitarian supplies to Tigray.
A crucial question is how long aid can return to Tigray, where communications and transport have been largely cut off since the start of the conflict. Doctors described the lack of basic medicines like vaccines, insulin and therapeutic food as people died of easily preventable diseases and starvation.
United Nations human rights investigators have said the Ethiopian government is using “civilian starvation” as a weapon of war.
“We are back to the surgery of the 18th century,” a surgeon at the region’s flagship hospital, Fasika Amdeslasie, told health experts at an online event on Wednesday. “It’s like an open-air prison.”
A humanitarian source said their organization could resume operations almost immediately, if unimpeded aid access to Tigray is granted.
“It’s entirely dependent on what the government agrees to…If they truly give us access, we can start acting very quickly, in hours, not weeks,” said the source, who spoke to The Associated. Press on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly.