The Ethiopian government says it is normalising life scene in the troubled Tigray region where a two-year war with rebels there had shut down the economy, even as the question of Eritrean troops persists.
On Thursday, Ethiopia’s Government Communication Service said a joint disarmament team, composed of Ethiopian government representatives and those of Tigray armed combatants, would be meeting in Shire town in Tigray to discuss a disarmament programme for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
“The Joint Technical Planning Committee which is expected to outline the detailed plan for the disarmament of Tigray combatants has convened in Shire town… (and) “is expected to finalise its duties in the coming days,” the Ethiopian government said. Shire was one of the crucial battlegrounds during the war pitying Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) against rebels. Its hosting of the joint team means the country was turning a page towards peace.
According to the Office of the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the federal government authorities were already fulfilling gradual supply of humanitarian aid, medical assistance and return of displaced people.
A dispatch said the priorities include Ethiopian forces helping with “gathering harvest” and supporting other agencies with “rebuilding infrastructure quickly” and helping civilians resume normal lives.
The moves follow a November 2 cessation of hostilities deal between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF who had been fighting since November 2020.
The reconstruction will need at least $2 billion to repair damaged roads, schools, hospitals, bridges and other infrastructure.
This week, the European Union provided $33 million for repairing some 8,500 schools vandalised during the war. EU Ambassador to Ethiopia Roland Kobia said the money will help 2 million children back in school besides relaunching a school feeding programme.
The EU said it will work with UN agencies for the project. The World Bank and UN agencies had earlier in May announced a grant of $300 million for reconstructing war-ravaged infrastructure.
But the normalisation programme is being dragged by complaints that Eritrea forces have remained in Ethiopia and attacking TPLF.
“While our forces are doing everything to honour their part of the Pretoria/Nairobi deal-disengagement, Eritrean forces are still on rampage, killing children and women, ransacking, destroying and looting property at will,” said TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda on November 27.
Earlier, he had told BBC’s Hardtalk show that the peace deal, signed in Pretoria, and a disarmament arrangement inked in Nairobi, “will be off the federal government (of Ethiopia) fails to honour its part of the responsibility to not only convince the Eritreans to withdraw but also other forces which are not part of the ENDF.”
The Eritrean question
In fact, the TPLF have always pegged the issue of disarmament on the exit of Eritreans, who had joined the war as allies of Ethiopian forces, but to settle an old score from the years Eritrean fought with Ethiopian then under the TPLF government.
“We will be willing to hand over our heavy weapons to the federal government as long as our security interests of the people of Tigray are taken care of… but nothing, so far, has changed… it is a very slow process.
On Thursday, the TPLF accused Eritreans of “extrajudicial killings, rape, abduction, looting, destruction and all evil deeds” warning that the peace deal will fail if civilians continue to be harmed.
Eritrea did not sign on the cessation of hostilities signed in Pretoria, nor the disarmament arrangements signed later in in Nairobi. But they were fighting alongside Ethiopian forces who were also supported by regional militia from Amhara.
TPLF says neither have left the war zone.
Last week, African Union’s High Representative for the Horn, and mediator in the conflict, Olusegun Obasanjo toured Tigray region.
Reporting by Tesfa-Elem Tekle and Aggrey Mutambo