One of 2022’s deadliest wars, in and around Ethiopia’s Tigray region, has for now ground to a halt.

Two of the main belligerents—Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated Ethiopian politics for decades before Abiy assumed power in 2018 and then fell out with him—signed a deal on Nov. 2 in Pretoria, South Africa, and, 10 days later, a follow-up agreement in Nairobi. But the calm is fragile. Key questions remain unsettled, notably whether Tigray’s forces will disarm and whether Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, whose army has been fighting alongside Ethiopian troops, will withdraw his troops to the internationally recognized border.

Hostilities broke out in late 2020 when Tigray’s forces seized a series of national military bases in the region, claiming to be preempting a federal intervention. Over two years of fighting, the advantage tipped back and forth. A March 2022 truce offered some respite. In late August, it broke down, and full-fledged war resumed. Federal, Amhara, and Eritrean forces again overwhelmed Tigray’s defenses.

The toll has been staggering. Researchers at Belgium’s Ghent University estimate that, as of August 2022, 385,000 to 600,000 civilians had died of war-related causes. Sources from both sides say hundreds of thousands of combatants have died in fighting since the start of the August offensive. All parties stand accused of atrocities, with Eritrean forces leaving a trail of particularly cruel devastation. Sexual violence has been rampant, seemingly used strategically to humiliate and terrorize civilians. For most of the war, Addis Ababa blockaded Tigray, cutting off electricity, telecommunications, and banking and constricting food, medicine, and other supplies.

The Pretoria agreement was a victory for Abiy. Tigray’s leaders conceded to restoring federal rule and disarming within a month. Addis Ababa said it would lift both the blockade and a terrorism designation on the TPLF. In Nairobi, Abiy’s commanders appeared to offer a more flexible timeline for disarmament, agreeing that Tigrayan forces would give up heavy weapons as Eritrean and Amhara regional fighters withdraw. Since then, the truce has held. Aid has surged, and federal authorities have reconnected Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital, to electricity.

But plenty could go wrong. A dispute over Western Tigray’s fertile borderlands, which Amharas call Welkait and claim as their own, is especially thorny. The Eritreans, for their part, have not yet pulled out, though reports suggest some of their troops have begun withdrawing. Nor have Tigrayans handed over weapons. The parties need to coordinate a delicate sequencing, lest each side blame the other for delays.

It’s Abiy’s battlefield ally, Isaias, who could end up his biggest headache. In 2018, Abiy’s peace deal with Isaias ended decades of hostility between the two countries, even if to some degree it also paved the way for the joint Ethiopia-Eritrea offensive against Tigray. Abiy has come out on top in his struggle with the TPLF. But despite all the bad blood, he probably needs some form of accommodation with Tigray’s leaders to avoid sowing the seeds of another insurgency. His government needs to determine the TPLF’s role in any interim regional administration and whether to permit some Tigrayan soldiers to become regional forces or reenter the federal army. Whether the Ethiopian prime minister recognizes the need for magnanimity is unclear. Equally critical, though, is whether, if he does, he can sell that to Isaias, who joined the war hoping to kill off his archenemy, the TPLF. 

Source: Genocide Watch - By Comfort Ero, the president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, and Richard Atwood, executive vice president of the International Crisis Group.

To read full article : Genocide Watch - 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2023

 

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