Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels said on Sunday they were ready for a ceasefire and would accept a peace process led by the African Union, removing an obstacle to negotiations with the Addis Ababa government to end almost two years of fighting.
The announcement was made following a flurry of international diplomacy after fighting flared in August for the first time in several months in northern Ethiopia, ending a humanitarian truce.
“The government of Tigray is prepared to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union,” said a statement by the Tigrayan authorities.
“Furthermore, we are ready to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities in order to create a conducive atmosphere.”
The Ethiopian government has previously said it was ready for unconditional talks “anytime, anywhere,” brokered by the Addis Ababa-headquartered AU.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has vehemently opposed the role of the AU’s Horn of Africa envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, protesting at his “proximity” to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Taye Dendea, Ethiopia’s state minister for peace, described the TPLF announcement as a “nice development” on Twitter but insisted the “so-called TDF (Tigray Defence Forces) must be disarmed before peace talks start.”
Guterres asked to get Eritrean troops out
The TPLF statement, which coincided with Ethiopia’s new year, made no mention of preconditions, although it said the Tigrayans expected a “credible” peace process with “mutually acceptable” mediators as well as international observers.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael earlier this month proposed a conditional truce calling for “unfettered humanitarian access” and the restoration of essential services in Tigray, which is suffering food shortages and a lack of electricity, communications and banking.
In a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he also called for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from across Ethiopia, and for troops to pull out of western Tigray, a disputed region claimed by both Tigrayans and Amharas, the country’s second-largest ethnic group.
Civilian population of Tigray in dire straits
Fighting has raged on several fronts in northern Ethiopia since hostilities resumed on 24 August, with each side accusing the other of firing first and breaking a March truce.
The latest clashes broke out around Tigray’s southeastern border but have since spread to areas west and north of the initial conflict zone. The TPLF accuses Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of having launched a massive joint offensive on Tigray on September 1.
The United Nations said on Thursday that the renewed fighting had forced a halt to desperately needed aid deliveries to Tigray, both by road and air.
The March truce had allowed aid convoys to travel to Tigray’s capital Mekele for the first time since mid-December.
Untold numbers of civilians have been killed since the war erupted in Africa’s second most populous country, and millions of people across northern Ethiopia are in need of emergency aid.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace laureate, sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF in response to what he said were attacks by the group on federal army camps.
The TPLF recaptured most of Tigray in a surprise fightback in June 2021 and expanded into Afar and Amhara, before the conflict reached a stalemate.