Ethiopian belligerents get into the nitty-gritty of peace talks
The substantive phase of the peace talks between the Ethiopian federal government and its foes in the Tigray province began in South Africa on Wednesday, with intense discussions about the terms of a possible cessation of hostilities.
Negotiators from both sides, and the mediators, have agreed that a cessation of hostilities should be the first objective in these first formal negotiations between the two sides who have been fighting each other in a bitter and bloody civil war since November 2020.
“Cessation of hostilities is the priority and both sides seem to be taking this seriously,” said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation.
The negotiations are being mediated by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is special envoy for the African Union. He is supported by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African deputy president Phumzil Mlambo-Ngcuka.
The Ethiopian federal government negotiation team is led by Redwan Hussein, national security adviser to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and justice minister Gedion Timotheos, according to an official familiar with the arrangements.
The Tigrayan negotiators are headed by Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and veteran military general Tsadkan Gebretensae, a former TPLF member and now part of the Tigray federal government.
The negotiators and mediators arrived in South Africa on Monday. The mediators agreed on an agenda that day. On Tuesday there was a ceremonial opening of the negotiations which are taking place at a secret venue believed to be in the vicinity of Pretoria. On Wednesday the substantive negotiations began.
The talks are taking place against the backdrop of a fluid situation on the battlefield. Ethiopian federal troops — controversially backed by forces from neighbouring Eritrea — have captured the key towns of Shire, Adwa and Aksum in Tigray, from the Tigray forces, over the past week. But they have not captured the Tigray capital of Mekelle, sources said, contradicting some reports from the Ethiopian government’s side.
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The sources also noted that the Tigrayans had bounced back from worse positions before — as in November 2020 when they lost Mekelle — and so should not be counted out of the battle.
There had been some discussion among the negotiators and the mediators on whether the talks should aim at a “cessation of hostilities” or a “ceasefire” as ...