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Ethiopia: Assessing The Pretoria Peace Agreement

In mid-March this year, Prime Minister Abiy engaged in discussions with delegates and representatives from the Tigray region concerning the preservation of the Pretoria Peace Agreement and the formulation of a sustainable way forward. Alongside the Prime Minister, Tigray’s regional interim leader Getachew Reda and Ethiopia Defense Minister Abraham Belay, who also hails from the Tigray region fielded questions from the Tigray community.

Prime Minister Abiy faced probing inquiries regarding the region’s budget allocation, the repatriation of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the issue of disputed territories between Tigray and Amhara. He acknowledged existing mistrust between the Tigray regional government and the Federal Government, which he said, ‘was expected as an after effect of the two-year war spanning 2020 to 2022’. Additionally, he noted repeated delays in his planned visit to Tigray due to officials from the region deeming the timing unfavorable.

Implementation of the Pretoria agreement has been sluggish, principally due to deficient disarmament of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). According to the letter of the Peace Agreement, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of TPLF fighters was to take precedence. Authorities in Tigray have resisted this key clause, insisting on the return of IDPs to “West Tigray”, a strategic piece of territory bordering Sudan claimed by Amhara and generally referred to as Welkait.

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Starting in February meetings between leaders of Tigray, Amhara, and Federal authorities discussed modalities for disarmament, IDP returns, and resolution for disputed territories between Amhara and Tigray via referendum. However, DDR and the fate of IDP remain key unresolved preconditions that must be met prior to July, and before any plans for referendum on disputed territories can begin.

Although the sides have largely agreed on a roadmap, as well as a timetable, behind the scenes there continues to be significant mistrust, deception, and shadow wars. Comments by general Tadesse Werede, a senior member of the interim regional administration of Tigray recently announced, “a decision has been reached with the federal government to completely dismantle the Amhara administration in West Tigray”, a statement designed to inflame on-going tensions in Amhara vis-à-vis the federal government. This of course goes against the spirit of the Pretoria Peace Agreement, which precludes all parties from making inflammatory statements or instigating tension.

In both Tigray and Amhara, significant political inertia obstructs the return of IDPs, albeit each region motivated by different factors. The Amhara regional authorities who set the goal of returning Amhara IDPs and refugees they claimed were displaced during the 30-year TPLF occupation of the region have largely been unsuccessful. Many of these people have since established different lives as migrants, whether it be in other parts of Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Israel, Australia, or the United States. Very few are expected to return.

Behind closed doors, high-ranking officials from the Amhara region rebuked Demeke Zewdu and Ashete Demelew, the current leaders of Welkait, for their failure to adequately organize and facilitate the return of Amhara IDPs displaced during the TPLF’s rule over the past three decades.

However, according to several credible accounts, even if Tigrayan IDPs displaced during the two-year war between 2020-2022 were to return to “West Tigray”, those who identify as Amhara in the region still retain a majority, TPLF leaders privately acknowledge this reality, implicitly recognizing that an impartial referendum would favor the Amhara. Consequently, they exhibit reluctance towards facilitating the repatriation of IDPs, fearing it could confer legitimacy and normalize the existing status quo. For hardliners in Tigray, who still fancy securing an outlet to Sudan to fuel their insurgency and strengthen their negotiating leverage against Addis Ababa, the current situation is unacceptable.

Fighters from Tigray recently probed Alamata, a town in contested Raya zone, currently under discussion to try and resolve peacefully. The move appears to be an expeditionary operation to test the patience of the federal government. It now remains to be seen whether the TPLF would up the ante by moving aggressively towards “West Tigray”, a move senior TPLF commander Abraha Tesfay warned, “would trigger a reaction from the Federal Government”, adding to internal divisions within the group.

On May 13th Interpol arrested Dawit Gebregziabiher, a businessman with close links to TPLF’s old guard on suspicions of running money laundering and arms trafficking schemes. He is expected to be transferred over to the Ethiopian Federal Police. His arrest adds to the growing rift between the TPLF and Tigray’s interim administration, which by all accounts provided information necessary for the arrest. Mr. Gebregziabiher is said to have been mediating between the TPLF and Eritrea’s cryptic regime. His detention, a result of international and regional cooperation will have a psychological impact.

Before the July deadline for DDR and the return of IDPs, some key leaders are preferring to instigate crises, if anything, at the very least to distract from growing internal splits within TPLF. Recent fighting between Amhara Fano rebels and the government has provided fertile ground for these shadow wars and deceptive public announcements. Security services have lately reported intercepting arms and ammunition heading from Tigray region into Amhara supposedly in a bid to foment the Fano militancy. The Pretoria Peace Agreement prohibits such actions explicitly, stating “The TPLF shall refrain from aiding and abetting, supporting or collaborating with any armed or subversive group in any part of the country”. Not much is publicly known as far as any efforts to ease tensions by the African Union monitoring team which is on the ground in northern Ethiopia.

As U.S Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer heads to the region, these matters will certainly be discussed. According to a statement from the US Department of State, Hammer’s latest visit was prompted by “the urgency of resolving outstanding issues through political dialogue and avoiding a return to conflict.” The press release also indicated that Ambassador Hammer will explore avenues for dialogue to resolve armed conflicts in the Amhara and Oromia regions and address the imperative for investigating human rights abuses in the country. Additionally, the special envoy’s itinerary includes visits to Kenya and Djibouti.

Despite repeated engagement by the State Department since 2020 however, conflicts in northern Ethiopia have not been permanently resolved. As skepticism emerges on the continued viability of the Pretoria Peace Agreement, it remains to be seen whether the conflicting parties and the mediators will take the difficult steps needed to implement the envisaged peace.

Author
Abren Editorial
Abren Team is the editorial board of Abren.org

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