French, German ministers in Ethiopia to back peace process in Tigray

File image: Redwan Hussein (L), Representative of the Ethiopian government, and Getachew Reda (R), Representative of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), shake hands a peace agreement between the two parties during a press conference regarding the African Union-led negotiations to resolve conflict in Ethiopia at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) offices in Pretoria on 2 November, 2022. AFP

Addis Ababa: Foreign ministers of France and Germany arrived in Addis Ababa on Thursday on a mission to support a peace agreement between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebels signed last year to end two years of brutal war.

The visit by France’s Catherine Colonna and Annalena Baerbock of Germany began a day after Tigrayan rebels announced they were starting to hand in their heavy weapons, a key component of the 2 November deal to silence the guns in northern Ethiopia.

During the two-day trip, the pair are due to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other ministers as well as African Union officials and human rights campaigners, and visit a World Food Programme distribution centre.

Colonna said in a statement before her departure that the visit was aimed at “supporting the peace process, the fight against impunity, and reconstruction”.

A diplomatic source said the ministers were carrying a message from the European Union that it is ready to re-engage in Ethiopia provided the ceasefire is respected and that a transitional justice mechanism is put in place.

Tigray Conflict

Tigray is a region in northern Ethiopia. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front is the dominant political party of the region. The party played a significant role in 1991 overthrow of the military government. The TPLF was the dominant player in the Ethiopian government till 2018, when following popular protests Abiy Ahmed was nominated the Prime Minister of the country.

The new Prime Minister initiated reforms and sidelined Tigrayan leaders accused of corruption and repression.

The changes at the center, reforms for the new PM, were seen as attempts at centralisation undermining the country’s federal structure by Tigrayan leaders.

Defying the central government, Tigray in September 2020 held its own regional elections. Center said the polls were illegal.

The tensions between the center and the Tigray started growing and in November the center sent military into Tigray after it accused the Tigrayan forces of attacking federal military bases. Thus, started the war which has killed untold numbers of civilians, displaced more than two million and left millions more in need of humanitarian aid.

Ethiopia-Tigray peace deal

A peace deal between the Ethiopia government and the TPLF was signed on 2 November in the South African capital Pretoria. Since the peace agreement  there has been a limited resumption of aid deliveries to Tigray, which has long faced dire shortages of food, fuel, cash and medicines.

Basic services such as communications, banking and electricity are slowly being restored to the stricken region of six million people.

While the TPLF announced it has begun disarming, local residents and aid workers say the Eritrean army and forces from the neighbouring region of Amhara remain in parts of Tigray and accuse them of murder, rape and looting.

Under the deal, the disarmament should take place “concurrently” with the withdrawal of foreign and forces that are not part of the Ethiopian national army.

Access to the region is extremely difficult, and it has not been possible to verify the situation on the ground independently.

The Horn of Africa and Ethiopia in particular are among the EU’s priorities, as China seeks to boost its influence in the region, as illustrated by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s visit to Addis Ababa this week.

With inputs from AFP

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