NAIROBI, Feb 4, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday held his first face-to-face meeting with Tigrayan leaders since a peace deal was agreed last year, officials and state media said.
The talks took place almost three months to the day since the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) signed an agreement to silence the guns after two years of brutal war.
Abiy's national security adviser Redwan Hussein said on Twitter that the prime minister and other officials met a TPLF delegation "regarding the progress of the peace process".
"As a result, PM Abiy passed decisions about increasing Flights, Banking & other issues that would boost trust & ease lives of civilians," he tweeted.
State media said it was the first time Abiy had joined the so-called Peace Agreement Implementation Coordination Committee set up after the November 2 breakthrough deal signed in the South African capital Pretoria.
Those attending included Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and armed forces chief Birhanu Jula, along with top Tigrayan military commander Tsadkan Gebretensae and TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda, pictures on state media showed.
Getachew said in an interview with the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation that the discussions covered the opening up of the banking sector and land transport to Tigray.
"Both on the part of the (Tigrayan) leadership and the Tigrayan people, there's no interest in a return to war," he added.
The two sides evaluated "actions carried out on the implementation of the Pretoria and Nairobi peace agreements so far", the EBC said, referring to a followup deal hammered out in the Kenyan capital on November 12.
They also discussed issues that "need further attention," it said, adding that the meeting took place at a resort in southern Ethiopia.
- Humanitarian crisis -
The devastating conflict that erupted in November 2020 has killed untold numbers of civilians, displaced more than two million and left millions more in need of humanitarian aid.
Under the terms of the November agreements, the TPLF agreed to disarm and re-establish the authority of the federal government in return for the restoration of access to Tigray, which was largely cut off from the outside world during the war.
Since the deal, there has been some resumption of aid deliveries to Tigray, which has long faced dire shortages of food, fuel, cash and medicines.
Basic services such as communications, banking and electricity are slowly being restored to the stricken region of six million people, with national carrier Ethiopian Airlines resuming commercial flights between Addis Ababa and Tigray's capital Mekele last month.
The TPLF announced it has begun disarming, while the United States said late last month there was an "ongoing withdrawal" of troops from neighbouring Eritrea who fought alongside government forces.
But local residents and aid workers say the Eritrean army and forces from the neighbouring region of Amhara remain in parts of Tigray and accuse them of murder, rape and looting.
- Atrocities -
The United States has imposed sanctions on Eritrea over its role in the conflict, with its soldiers accused of carrying out some of the worst atrocities.
Asmara was not a party to the November deals, which called for the pullout of foreign and non-Ethiopian federal government forces, but there was no specific mention of Eritrea, one of the world's most closed-off countries whose regime considers the TPLF its arch-enemy.
Access to Tigray is restricted, and it is impossible to verify independently the situation on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government has embarked on a diplomatic offensive seeking support for its bid to stop the work of a UN-backed body tasked with investigating human rights in the country.
State minister for foreign affairs Mesganu Arga has held talks with ambassadors from the United States and Britain, among others, to push for an end to the mandate of what he termed a "politically biased" commission, state media reported Friday.
In its first report in September last year, the commission said it had found evidence of a wide range of violations by all sides that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The war began after Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in part for rapprochement with Eritrea, sent troops into Tigray, accusing the TPLF of attacking army bases there.
The United States has said the death toll from the conflict could be as high as 500,000 while African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo has put it at up to 600,000.