Region is in the grip of a severe crisis due to a lack of food and medicine after a two-year conflict
Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan rebels have agreed to facilitate immediate humanitarian access to “all in need” in war-ravaged Tigray and neighbouring regions.
The agreement followed talks in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi this week on the full implementation of a deal signed between the warring sides 10 days ago to end the brutal two-year conflict in northern Ethiopia.
“The parties have agreed to facilitate unhindered humanitarian access to all in need of assistance in Tigray and neighbouring regions,” according to a joint statement read out at a Nairobi press conference on Saturday.
The agreement was signed by field marshal Berhanu Jula, Ethiopian armed forces’ chief of staff, and Gen Tadesse Worede, commander-in-chief of the Tigray rebel forces.
African Union special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been mediating the peace negotiations, said Saturday’s deal was with “immediate effect”.
The two sides had also agreed to establish a joint committee to implement an agreement to disarm fighters with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the statement said.
After little more than a week of negotiations in the South African capital of Pretoria, the government of the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, and the TPLF on 2 November signed a peace deal that has been hailed by the international community as a crucial first step in ending the bloodshed.
– The restoration of aid to Tigray and its 6 million people was one of the key planks of the accord.
Ethiopia’s northernmost region is in the grip of a severe humanitarian crisis due to lack of food and medicine, and there is limited access to basic services including electricity, banking and communications.
“We have suffered untold misery over the last two years and still continue to suffer,” Tadesse said. “So the commitment we are making today is with the hope that our people’s suffering will come to an end soon.”
Berhanu pledged the government’s “full commitment for bringing peace and stability to our people and our country”.
International pressure for a ceasefire had been mounting since intense fighting erupted in late August, shattering a five-month truce that had allowed limited aid to reach Tigray.
The Pretoria deal notably calls for the cessation of hostilities, restoration of humanitarian aid, the re-establishment of federal authority over Tigray and the disarming of TPLF fighters.
The conflict between the TPLF and pro-Abiy forces, which include regional militias and the Eritrean army, has caused an untold number of deaths, forced more than 2 million people from their homes and driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine in Tigray.
Estimates of casualties vary widely, with the United States saying that as many as half a million people have died, while the EU’s foreign envoy, Josep Borrell, said more than 100,000 people may have been killed.
UN-backed investigators have accused all sides of committing abuses but also charged that Addis Ababa had been using starvation as a weapon of war – claims denied by the Ethiopian authorities.
Abiy declared last week that his government, whose forces had claimed considerable gains on the Tigray battlefield in recent weeks, had secured “100%” of what it had sought in the peace negotiations.
On Friday, the government said its forces controlled 70% of Tigray and that aid was being sent in, including 35 trucks of food and three trucks of medicine to the strategic city of Shire.
But the rebels and a humanitarian worker based in Tigray swiftly denied the claims.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization called for a massive influx of food and medicines into Tigray after the ceasefire deal, saying aid had not yet been allowed in.
“Many people are dying from treatable diseases. Many people are dying from starvation,” the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who hails from Tigray, told a press conference.
(c) The Guardian 2022