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Slow pace of disarmament threatens Tigray peace deal

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FILE PHOTO: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri – Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020.

By Dr Sizo Nkala

THE AU scored a rare diplo- matic breakthrough in the final months of last year when it brokered a peace deal between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) who had been engaged in a deadly conflict since 2020.

According to many estimates, the civil war resulted in the deaths of more than 500 000 people who died mostly from the violence and the war-induced famine. About 1.8 million people were displaced in the Tigrayan region while infrastructure such as roads, communication lines, powerlines were badly damaged leading to the suspension of vital services to the people of Tigray.

However, on November 2, the warring parties signed the Agreement for Lasting Peace Through A Permanent Cessation of Hostilities in Pretoria.

Under the agreement, the parties committed to disengaging forces or armed groups under their control; the cessation of all forms of covert and overt violence including airstrikes, laying of mines, and using proxies to destabilise the other party and refrain from all forms of propaganda and hate speech.

The two sides undertook to restore constitutional order in the Tigray region and initiate political dialogue and to restore the presence of the federal government in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, to resume the provision of public services and ensure the safety of the citizens.

Article 5 of the agreement pleads with the parties to allow humanitarian agencies access to the region to expedite the provision of humanitarian aid.

Crucially, Article 6 of the pact concerned the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the TPLF forces. The overall disarmament of the TPLF combatants, including heavy and small weapons was scheduled to be finalised within 30 days of signing the agreement.

Article 11 called on the parties to form a monitoring, compliance, and verification mechanism to oversee the implementation of the agreement.

A joint committee made up of representatives from the TPLF and the Ethiopian government, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and chaired by the AU through its High-Level Panel was to be established. The panel was tasked with appointing a team of experts to monitor the implementation of theagreement.

It has been more than two months since the agreement was signed and substantial progress has been registered in terms of implementation albeit some aspects falling behind schedule.

The critical issue of the di armament of the TPLF forces as stipulated in Article 6 of the agreement does not seem to have gone according to plan. The disarmament process has been slow as it is still going on more than two months into the deal despite having agreed that the process would be completed within 30 days of signing the agreement. This has been due to mutual distrust between the parties.

The TPLF forces commander, Tadesse Worese, was quoted as saying that his forces will not fully disarm due to the presence of forces that did not want peace.

The TPLF spokesperson reportedly said thatdisarmament might take years due to the presence of a security threat in Tigray. They seem to be referring to Eritrean forces in some of Tigray’s towns. Eritrea, which has long-standing hostilities with Tigrayan leaders, has been involved in the civil war fighting on the side of the government.

Early this year, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s national security adviser said that the government will only remove the TPLF from a list of terrorist organisations once disarmament has been completed. As such the situation is still delicate and the failure to complete the disarmament process may impair the full implementation of the agreement and even see a resumption of active hostilities.

Moreover, the Joint Committee agreed on under Article 11 of the agreement which will bring together the warring parties and the regional bloc, IGAD, has yet to be formed. The committee was meant to serve as a platform of negotiation and communication with a view to speeding up the implementation of the peace deal.

Nonetheless, the implementation of other aspects of the peace deal seems to be in motion.

As per Article 11 of the agreement, the AU deployed its Monitoring,

Verification and Compliance Mission in Tigray early this month.

The team comprises experts from across Africa tasked with monitoring the implementation of the deal.

The Ethiopian government sent a high-level delegation to the Tigray region on December 26 to assess the implementation of the agreement.

The restoration of critical services such as banking, electricity, internet, and phone lines in Tigray is also proceeding albeit at a snail’s pace. A few parts of the region have had these services restored including the regional capital Mekelle.

Further, the flow of humanitarian aid to the region has picked up pace.

According to the UN, 20 humanitarian organisations had delivered more than 100 000 tons of food and 20 000 tons of other items to Tigrayans. Expediting humanitarian access to Tigray was agreed on under Article 5 of the peace deal.

While significant progress has been made in implementing the peace deal, the slow pace of disarmament threatens to derail the implementation of the agreement and possibly the re-escalate the conflict.