August 7, 2021
In a press briefing on Thursday August 5, 2021 held at the backdrop of two high level visits to the country, the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO) dismissed the talks that Sudan could be a negotiating partner to end the war in the northern part of the country.
The war launched in early November 2020 with the government’s announcement that the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) had been attacked by the special forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) aged nine months and counting with no end in sight.
The TPLF is now expanding towards other neighboring regions launching new and frequent offensives in Amhara and Afar regions.
Responding to a question from The Reporter, the head of foreign languages and digital media at the PMO, Billene Seyoum said that the relationship between Ethiopia and Sudan is “tricky” to trust the later for such negotiations.
“I think the relationship with Sudan at this point is a little bit tricky because the level of trust with some leaders has already been eroded particularly with the Sudanese army’s incursion into Ethiopian territory. And trust is the basis of any negotiation and mediation as well. So, that element needs to be thoroughly addressed before Sudan could be entertained as a credible party to facilitating such kinds of negotiations,” Billene underscored.
It was recently reported that the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdock (PhD), is launching an initiative to facilitate peace talks among the warring parties in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray province. In its ninth month, the war in Tigray is spreading to the neighboring Amhara and Afar provinces displacing hundreds of thousands of residents.
The TPLF forces had stated that the offensives they launched towards the southern parts of the region are meant to open up unfettered humanitarian access for the needy ones in the region. Despite the humanitarian ceasefire the government declared a month ago, the fighting in the norther part of the country is still raging with more forces joining the armed conflict. While the Amhara and Afar regional states had mobilized police and special forces as well as militia within their respective regions to fend off “terrorist attacks by the TPLF,” other regional states have also sent in thousands of special forces and police to join the fighting in different fronts. The Amhara region had also recently graduated youth from across the region who were trained and retained as reserve forces.
Apart from this, since the TPLF’s offensives in the Amhara and Afar regions, youth from different parts of the country had been mobilized to join the ENDF.
This decline for Hamdock’s reported efforts to negotiate between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government comes amidst repeated calls from the international community for the war to stop so that humanitarian assistance can reach the war affected civilians in the Tigray region.
In a visit he made this week to Ethiopia with travels to Tigray region, the United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA) Martin Griffiths told reporters at Hyatt Regency Hotel on Tuesday August 3, 2021 that, “We need the war and the conflict to stop to be safe for the people to receive the aid for them as well as for the convoys to reach there.”
His first visit made since his appointment to this position, Griffiths said that the biggest challenge when it comes to delivering humanitarian assistance to Tigray is to ease the frustration of the frontliners in Tigray who are not getting enough supply to provide for the needy ones; and this becomes more complicated at times of ongoing conflict.
Similarly, in a press conference at the Sheraton Addis Hotel on Wednesday August 4, 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power called for the conflict to stop and for the warring parties to enter into negotiations.
“It is extremely important that the conflict stop and that military offensives of that nature stop and that the parties turn to dialogue,” she stated.
According to her, 5.2 million people are in a state of dire need in Tigray region for whom humanitarian assistance needs to reach with eased bureaucratic processes which she said were only improved on paper, not in practice. In addition, 76,000 people displaced from Afar and 150,000 people displaced from Amhara because of the expansion of the TPLF into these regions also need humanitarian assistance, she said.
“I visited a local staging center for USAID’s food aid not far from the capital. Warehouses were full of wheat and lentils and split peas and trucks lay idle in the mud because deliveries had been backed up for weeks due to ongoing blockades. In my conversation with the Minister of Peace, I stressed these values, called yet again for a cessation of hostilities and unfettered humanitarian access,” the Administrator said.
Responding to questions from journalists while leaving the meeting with the Administrator, the Minister of Peace Muferyat Kamil said that the international community needs to call out the TPLF’s acts and condemn rather than blanket recommendations and naming.
“We have told them that this is a conflict we were forced into. However, we are working to facilitate humanitarian assistance to the region and we have declared a humanitarian ceasefire,” she said.
According to Miferyat, one of the concerns raised by Power during the discussions was that the humanitarian access is hindered by bureaucratic processes which the government is working to ease by opening additional corridors as well as air lifting aid materials.
“They say there are delays and vehicles are stranded. But we have told them that 61 trucks had previously transported aid without hindrance and the stranded vehicles could not travel because of the TPLF’s attacks on the Afar people. We reiterated the government’s readiness and commitment to salvage the people of Tigray,” she said.
Operating within this situation, the pressure from the international community has now become a negotiated ceasefire and dialogue between the warring entities in Tigray so that the conflict could not escalate to destabilize the Horn of Africa region. Although the government said that it is ready to negotiate with a relevant body, no interest of sitting with the TPLF high level officials has been shown from PM Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) administration. However, the TPLF had issued two statements on a negotiated ceasefire in Tigray placing preconditions. Among these conditions stated in the second statement are restoration of essential services, immediate release of budget, establishment of multiple humanitarian corridor, release of all political prisoners as well as immediate cessation of mass detention of Tigrayans.
But the government said that the engagement between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government is not between two equals, it does not want to reject or accept the demands put in place by the TPLF.