ADDIS ABABA/WASHINGTON — World leaders are reacting with cautious optimism after the announcement of a peace deal and a cease-fire between warring parties in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
It “represents an important step towards peace,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “We applaud the parties in their commitment to peace in reaching this agreement. The United States remains committed to supporting this African Union-led process and peace and to partnering to advance peace in northern Ethiopia.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “welcomed the signing of a cessation of hostilities” in a Twitter post Wednesday, praising the African Union for “its extraordinary efforts to bring peace to northern Ethiopia.”
“Two years into the war in northern Ethiopia, the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front have just agreed to a cessation of hostilities, while millions remain cut off from humanitarian assistance and following countless deaths and atrocities,” U.S. Senator Jim Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
Risch called on U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to “make an atrocities determination or hold Ethiopian leaders accountable for the human rights abuses committed. This inaction has contributed to continued atrocities.”
Negotiations began on October 25 in Johannesburg and concluded after 10 days. The deal calls for the disarming of Tigrayan forces with both parties agreeing to “permanently silence the guns.” The parties agreed to “stop all forms of conflicts, and hostile propaganda,” calling Ethiopians within the country and abroad to support efforts for lasting peace.
The brief joint statement notes “a detailed program of disarmament” and “restoration of Constitutional order” in Tigray.
The Ethiopian government also committed to restoring public services in the Tigray region, where communications, transport and banking links for more than 5 million people have been severed since war broke out. “Students must go to school, farmers, and pastoralists to their fields, and public servants to their offices,” the statement read.
The parties also committed to allowing unfettered access to humanitarian relief organizations.
The Tigray region has been under a government-imposed blackout, making it difficult to gauge the scale of the impact of the war. With little to no internet access, mobile phone and landline communications, journalists struggled to get information from within Tigray.
It is unclear where Eritrea stands, but it has been involved in the Tigray war since the beginning, fighting alongside Ethiopia’s federal government. The neighboring country was not represented at the peace talks and warring parties did not directly address the subject of withdrawal of Eritrean troops in the statement issued.
The African Union played a lead role in the negotiations including the high representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, along with former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Deputy President of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki congratulated the parties on reaching a deal.
“I warmly commend the Parties for signing a cessations of hostilities agreement following talks facilitated by the AU Panel,” he said in a Twitter post. The AU, he added, is “committed to continue supporting the Parties to find lasting peace & reconciliation for all Ethiopians.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commended the parties and the mediators for achieving the cessation of hostilities.
“It is a critical first step that paves the way for the unimpeded delivery of lifesaving humanitarian aid and the resumption of public services,” he told reporters Thursday at U.N. headquarters.
He said the human cost of the conflict has been “devastating,” and he urged all Ethiopians to seize the opportunity for peace, pledging the full support of the United Nations.
Guterres called on Ethiopians and the international community to “support the bold step” taken by the warring parties. And European Union’s foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell urged that “swift implementation of the agreement” was needed and underscored the need to “resume humanitarian access in all affected areas and to restore basic services.”
The civil war in Africa’s second-most populous country marks its second anniversary on November 4. The United Nations says the conflict has claimed thousands of lives, with about 3.5 million internally displaced in Tigray in 2022. Humanitarian convoy movements to Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray, through Afar “came to a complete stop” since 24 August, the U.N. said with many facing hunger.