Ethiopia’s Tigray region, at war for the last two years, may finally be looking up to long-term peace after Eritrean forces, a key party to the war began packing to leave the battlefield.
The decision for Eritrea to leave Tigray was reached this week after a delegation of Ethiopian government officials for the first time toured Makelle, the capital of the region, since the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA).
CoHA was signed by the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), labelled as ‘combatants’ on the agreement. But Eritrea which had sided with the Ethiopian government in the war had not signed, something that had been a bone of contention on how to disarm the TPLF.
Eritrea’s withdrawal was not made official, but sources told The EastAfrican on Thursday that the troops had been seen crossing back into Eritrea through Sheraro, one of the towns the Eritreans frequently shelled at the height of the war.
But this move could not ease the handover of heavy weapons by the TPLF to the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, part of the provisions under CoHA. The discussions on how that will be conducted were cemented at a meeting between Ethiopian officials and TPLF leaders.
Since last week, as parties ironed out disarmament arrangements, crucial services resumed. Frehiwot Tamiru, the CEO of the state-owned, Ethio Telecom, said a phone call was made Wednesday after more than a year of communication blackout.
“The restart of telecommunication services in (Mekele) has enabled 61 bank branches to re-enter into service," the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Tamiru.
Tamiru said the firm has managed to rehabilitate 981 km of fibre lines, resulting in 27 cities and towns across the region receiving telecommunication services again.
A high-level Ethiopian government delegation led by Parliament Speaker Tagesse Chaffo on Monday arrived in Mekelle in what TPLF leaders said was a milestone visit in the peace agreement to end the two-year war in the Horn of Africa's nation.
After arriving in Mekelle, the government delegation of more than 50 representatives and Tigray leaders held discussions on a range of pressing issues related to humanitarian aid, basic services, commerce and the withdrawal of Eritrea and Amhara forces.
TPLF officials have been accusing the Eritrean government of trying to obstruct the peace process and urged the Abiy government to comply with the terms of the peace accord with regard to withdrawing the foreign and non-federal forces.
“Fruitful discussions were held and important understanding has been reached,” said Getachew Reda, advisor to the President of Tigray, who also signed the peace agreement with the Ethiopian government on behalf of the TPLF in November.
“The government’s gesture to restore the long overdue restoration of services is commendable. That none of the government delegation members bothered to bring close protection guards is a testament to their confidence in Tigray’s commitment to the peace agreement,” Getachew said.
Tigray on its part has welcomed and treated its guests with a sense of respect and responsibility, he added.
Diplomats and heads of public enterprises including from Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio telecom were also among the delegation.
The meeting of Ethiopian and TPLF representatives prepared the ground for the significant trip by African Union officials.
On Thursday, the AU launched the Monitoring and Verification Mission (AU-MVCM) in Makelle facilitated by the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa and former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo and AU High-Level Panel Members former President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa.
AU-MVCM is provided in Article 11 of CoHA and includes Ethiopian government officials, TPLF representatives, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and is chaired by the African Union through the High-Level Panel.
“The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat commends the Parties and the AU High-Level Panel for this significant step in the implementation of the CoHA and encourages them to continue with their efforts to restore peace, security and stability in Ethiopia,” said a statement from the African Union.
The trip became the first high-level AU visit to Makelle since the war.