Tigray rebels have finally said they are ready to accept African Union mediation as fighting resumed with the Ethiopian government last month.
Ethiopian rebels in Tigray announced on Sunday that they are ready to participate in peace talks under the auspices of the African Union (AU) aimed at ending nearly two years of armed conflict in this northern part of Ethiopia. The announcement was hailed by the AU as a “unique opportunity”.
“The government of Tigray is ready to participate in a robust peace operation under the auspices of the African Union,” a statement from rebel regional officials said. “Furthermore, we are ready to honor an immediate and mutually agreed upon de-escalation in order to create an amicable atmosphere,” they added.
The move comes amid increased diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, after renewed fighting last month broke a truce established in March.
The Ethiopian government has long insisted that any peace process be negotiated under the auspices of the AU, which is headquartered in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. But the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had until then denounced its “closeness” to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had always rejected mediation by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the AU’s Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the African Union (AU) Commission, hailed it as a “unique opportunity” to end the nearly two-year-old war and called for “both sides to work urgently to establish a ceasefire and engage in direct negotiations”. Process under the AU, including with mutually agreed international partners.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Peace Dei Dentia took to Twitter to call the TPLF announcement a “positive development” while insisting that “the so-called TDF (Tigray Defense Forces) must be disarmed before peace talks begin. Clear position!”
The TPLF announcement, which coincided with the Ethiopian New Year, did not specify any preconditions, but the Tigrayan rebels said they wanted a “credible” peace process with “acceptable” mediators and international observers on both sides.
Earlier this month, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael offered a ceasefire conditional on “unimpeded humanitarian access” and the restoration of essential services in Tigray, which has suffered food shortages and shortages 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 Ethiopia and across Tigray.
A fight breaks out
Sunday’s report said a negotiating team, including TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda and former Ethiopian army chief General Tsadkan Gebretensae, who is now in the Tigray Central Army Command, is “ready to be deployed without delay”.
Last month, Debretsion Gebremichael revealed two rounds of secret face-to-face meetings between senior civilian and military officials, the first acknowledgment by a warring side of direct contact.
Fighting has raged on several fronts in northern Ethiopia since fighting resumed on August 24, with both sides accusing each other of breaking a ceasefire agreed in March.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigre in November 2020 to topple the TPLF in what he saw as attacks on federal military camps. But the rebels succeeded in retaking much of Tigray in June 2021, before the fighting reached a stalemate.