By TESFA-ALEM TEKLE
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has, for the first time, said his government is open to negotiations with the northern Tigray rebels.
Dr Abiy, responding to queries from members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, said his administration has set up a committee to spearhead the talks.
“Regarding the peace, a committee has been established,” he told parliament. “Negotiation needs a lot of work,” he added, saying that the team “will study how we will conduct talks.”
The committee, headed by his deputy Demeke Mekonnen, has 10 to 15 days to work out on details of agendas for negotiations.
Fighting erupted in Tigray in November 2020 and spilled to neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions last year. Thousands have died and many more fled their homes, triggering a humanitarian crisis.
The war has since eased after Dr Abiy’s government declared a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire in March.
Moment of laughter
During the session in Parliament, MPs were left in stitches with laughter following a suggestion from a lawmaker from Amhara, Desalegn Chane, that Eritreans be included in the peace talks.
“Both Amhara people and our Eritrean brothers need to be part of the negotiations since they were part of the war,” the former chairperson of the National Movement of Amhara said.
His remarks, however, were criticised by Tigrayan activists and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) supporters.
On Monday, a government source had told The EastAfrican that direct talks between the two warring parties would begin by the end of this month.
“Peace talks will start in about two weeks. There will be a team of five representatives from each party in the talks,” the source said.
The negotiations will address key issues, among them the security arrangement and whether the Tigray Defence Forces would remain armed. Other matters, the source said, are about the prisoners, humanitarian issues and the disputed territories in western Tigray, which Amhara occupied following the conflict.
Last Sunday, a senior TPLF official intimated knowledge of the direct talks with the Addis Ababa government. “We know there are plans, but you cannot be sure. Addis has been dragging it. It [the direct talks] might even be earlier than two weeks. We are ready from our side,” the official told The EastAfrican.
“The government of Tigray has always been ready for a peaceful political resolution of the ongoing conflict in Tigray.”