The shadow of Eritrea hangs over the Ethiopian peace process

The shadow of Eritrea hangs over the Ethiopian peace process

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Ethiopian Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Field Marshal Berhanu Jula (L) shakes hands with the Commander-in-Chief of the Tigray rebel forces, General Tadesse Worede (R), in Nairobi on November 12, 2022.

His name is not even mentioned in the peace accord, yet his shadow hangs over the conflict that is tearing Ethiopia’s north apart. Eritrea is the main absentee from the peace negotiations between the Ethiopian government and the insurgents of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (FLPT), while it has been militarily engaged in the Ethiopian civil war since November 2020. Many observers fear that Eritrea will ultimately sabotage the peace efforts.

This Saturday, November 12 in Nairobi, Kenya, the Ethiopian belligerents ratified the ceasefire signed a few days earlier during a first round of negotiations, putting an end to two years of war. The negotiators also had to agree on two essential aspects: the gradual disarmament of the Tigray forces and the return of humanitarian aid to the devastated region of Tigray.

After five days of talks under the aegis of the African Union (AU), yesterday’s enemies proclaimed the immediate return of “humanitarian access to all those in need in Tigray”the restoration of basic services in the region – telecommunications, banking, electricity – and reaffirmed the “disarmament” Tigrayan forces. This last point is the object of all the tensions.

To everyone’s surprise, the FLPT had accepted the idea of ​​disarming its armed forces on November 2, during the first agreement signed in Pretoria, South Africa. A decision that amounts to a surrender. But, to do this, the Tigrayan representatives are now expecting strong security guarantees from Addis Ababa. The disarmament of the FLPT must go hand in hand with the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray. “The disarmament of heavy weapons must be undertaken concomitantly with the withdrawal of foreign forces from the region”merely indicates the treaty, without giving a timetable.

“The Eritrean question weakens the agreement”

If the name of Eritrea is on everyone’s lips, mentioning it publicly remains a taboo. Addis Ababa categorically refuses to do so. “We are not here to discuss any particular foreign country, we are only here to talk about peace in Ethiopia”dodges the AU mediator, Uhuru Kenyatta, when asked about the departure of the Eritreans, who still occupy northern Tigray today.

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