The Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebels have agreed to facilitate immediate humanitarian access to “all those in need” in Tigray and other neighboring war-torn regions.
Saturday’s agreement followed talks in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, this week on the full implementation of a signed agreement between the warring sides 10 days ago to end the brutal two year conflict in northern Ethiopia.
“The parties agreed to facilitate unhindered humanitarian access to all those in need of assistance in Tigray and neighboring regions,” a joint statement said.
The agreement was signed by Field Marshal Berhanu Jula, Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces, and General Tadesse Worede, Commander-in-Chief of the Tigray Rebel Forces.
African Union mediator Olusegun Obasango said the deal had “immediate effect.”
Keiredin Tezera, an Ethiopian lawmaker, told Al Jazeera that even before the deal was reached on Saturday, aid was being sent to areas under army control.
“This agreement can further facilitate the delivery of aid not only to the Tigray region but also to neighboring regions, which are also affected by the conflict,” he said. “This is great news for us and not only for all of Ethiopia but also for Africa… It is important beyond Ethiopia.”
The two sides also agreed to set up a joint committee to implement the agreement to disarm fighters with the Tigray Popular Liberation Front (TPLF), the statement said.
The African Union Commission said it “applauds the parties for these important confidence-building measures and encourages them to continue towards the full implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, as part of the overall efforts to end the conflict and restore peace, security and stability in Ethiopia”.
After just over a week of negotiations in the South African capital, Pretoria, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the TPLF signed a peace agreement on November 2 that has been hailed by the international community as a crucial first step in putting end to bloodshed.
The restoration of aid to Tigray and its six million inhabitants was one of the key points of the agreement.
The northernmost region of Ethiopia is in the grip of a serious humanitarian crisis due to the lack of food and medicine, and access to basic services such as electricity, banking and communications is limited.
Yohannes Abraha, representative of the Tigray regional government in North America, said that there has been a request for unhindered humanitarian flow to Tigray for a long time.
“It has been a long time, since August, that no humanitarian aid has arrived in Tigray,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that nothing has materialized even after the November 2 peace agreement.
Abraha said that, among other reasons, the dire situation on the ground contributed to the outcome.
“Close engagement and pressure from the international community… helped materialize this deal,” the representative added.
The Pretoria agreement calls in particular for the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of humanitarian aid, the restoration of federal authority over Tigray and the disarmament of TPLF fighters.
The conflict between the TPLF and pro-Abiy forces, which include regional fighters and the Eritrean military, has caused untold numbers of deaths, forced more than two million from their homes, and led to horrific reports of abuse. such as rapes and massacres.
Casualty estimates have varied widely, with the United States saying up to half a million people have died, while the European Union’s foreign envoy, Josep Borrell, said more than 100,000 people may have died.
UN-backed investigators have accused all sides of committing abuses, but also accused Addis Ababa of using famine as a weapon of war, claims Ethiopian authorities deny.
Abiy declared last week that his government, whose forces had claimed considerable gains on the battlefield, had secured “100 percent” of what it had sought in peace negotiations.
On Friday, the government said its forces controlled 70 percent of Tigray and aid was being sent, claims Tigray rebels were quick to deny.
Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, sent troops to Tigray in late 2020 to topple the TPLF, the region’s ruling party, in response to what he said were attacks by the group on federal army camps.
The conflict capped months of simmering tensions between Abiy and the TPLF, which has dominated the national government for nearly three decades until he took office in 2018.