Ethiopia and Tigray region establish hotline in new move towards peace

As many as 600,000 people are thought to have died in one of the world's most destructive conflicts in recent times

Ethiopian National Defence Forces soldiers after training in Dabat, 70 kilometres north-east of the city of Gondar. AFP
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A hotline has been established between the Ethiopian government and leaders of the Tigrayan separatist region, as one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts moved closer to resolution after two years of fighting.

The move raises hope of a permanent ceasefire, after both sides agreed to immediately stop violence and allow aid flows, following mediation efforts by the African Union, led by chief mediator Olusegun Obasanjo.

Millions of people have been displaced by the conflict and Ethiopia’s economic growth, once celebrated as a success story in Africa, has ground to a halt. Around 600,000 people have died, according to a recent Belgian study, mainly from famine caused by the disruption of the war.

Around five million people in the Tigray region are also in urgent need of food aid. In a victory of sorts for President Abiy Ahmed, the truce will see the restoration of constitutional authority over the Tigray region.

It also calls for the disarmament of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front.

Representatives of Ethiopia's government and forces from Tigray are in the Kenyan capital Nairobi to discuss how to begin implementing the ceasefire, with the talks expected to last three or four days.

"The first sign for me of the progress after the signing of the agreement is the fact that between them they have exchanged a hotline," Mr Obasanjo told a news conference in Nairobi.

According to an official familiar with the talks, the hotline will address any flare up in fighting and co-ordinate disengagements, with both sides recognising "the challenge of fully communicating with all their units to stop fighting".

In a press release, the African Union said the expected outcomes of the meeting "include modalities for silencing the guns, humanitarian access, and the restoration of services in the Tigray region".

Implementing the ceasefire will be tough given concerns of ongoing fighting on the ground, unsettled political and territorial disputes and an ambitious disarmament timeline.

Officials this week also want to agree membership of an African Union-led panel of experts for monitoring, verification and compliance of the ceasefire, the source familiar with the talks said.

Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, a co-mediator at the talks, said he hoped the parties would be able to work together to create a permanent resolution to the problem.

"We started in Pretoria, we are inching our way closer. We are now in Nairobi, we are very hopeful next time we will be in Mekelle for our (next) meeting and ultimately celebrate together in Addis Ababa," Kenyatta said, referring to the capitals of South Africa, the Tigray region and Ethiopia respectively.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 12:01 PM