Ethiopian Airlines on Wednesday resumed flights to Mekele, capital of the war-torn northern Tigray region, the first commercial flights to the region in about 18 months.
The resumption of flights comes two days after a high-level government delegation comprising half a dozen ministers and heads of public enterprises paid a visit to Mekele to discuss the implementation of last month’s peace agreement signed between the Ethiopian government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leaders.
This is the first time for the central government to dispatch such a high-level delegation to the region since conflict between Tigray regional and government forces broke out in November 2020.
Under huge international pressure, the two parties struck a Pretoria peace accord on November 2, 2022.
The agreement included promises to restore halted services and unfettered humanitarian access among others ended a two-year bloody war between the Ethiopian federal government and allies against the Tigrayan forces.
“The resumption of these flights will enable families to reunite, facilitate the restoration of commercial activities, stimulate tourist flow and bring many more opportunities which will serve the society,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO Mesfin Tasew, who was part of the delegation to Mekelle, said in a statement.
Sources in Addis Ababa told The EastAfrican Daily that all Mekelle-bound daily flights slated till end of next week has fully been booked within hours of the announcement made yesterday.
With planned daily flights to Mekelle, the airline said “it will increase the daily frequency depending on the demand on the route”
Ethiopian currently operates to a total of 20 domestic destinations and plans to increase this number in the coming years.
Resumption of the flights also comes as most of the region gets connected to the national power grid and telecoms services have been restored in 27 towns there, according to figures issued by government officials.
As flights to Mekele resume on Wednesday, Ethiopia National Defense Forces (ENDF) will be in Mekelle as of Thursday to safeguard government institutions and to resume Constitutional duty.
“In the meantime, handing over of heavy weapons and resumption of constitutional duty of ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Force) in Mekele in particular is expected to be executed until Thursday,” said Ethiopian national security adviser Redwan Hussien on Twitter post on Tuesday.
Mr. Redwan cited the Nairobi agreement on the implementation of the peace accord, which called for the handover of heavy weapons, together with the withdrawal of foreign and non-federal forces, without naming specific foreign forces.
Eritrean troops, who have fought alongside Ethiopian federal forces have recently been accused by TPLF officials of trying to obstruct the peace process.
Even after a peace deal was signed, the Eritrean forces who were not signatories to the peace agreement have been accused of looting towns, raping, arresting and killing civilians in the Tigray region.
Lack of Eritrean forces withdrawal has been an obstacle to the implementation of the peace agreement brokered by the African Union.
Yesterday, the government delegation and Tigray leaders held discussions in Mekelle on a range of pressing issues including on the withdrawal of Eritrean and non-federal forces from the Tigray region.
However, details of what has been discussed or decided with regard to exit of Eritrean forces has not yet been revealed by any of the parties but Tigray leaders said the discussions were “cordial and historical”.
“Fruitful discussions were held and important understanding has been reached” said Getachew Reda, advisor to the President of Tigray, who also signed the peace agreement with the Ethiopian government on behalf of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
“The government’s gesture to green light the long over due restoration of services is commendable”
“That none of the government delegation members bothered to bring close protection guards is a testament to their confidence in Tigray’s commitment to the peace agreement” Getachew said.
Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of regional party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), called for their departure.
“We have disengaged our troops in all four fronts. But we left some in areas where (Eritrean) forces are still present,” he said in a televised address from Mekelle.
Tigray conflict has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people.
The peace agreement followed by resumption of some basic services such as electricity, banking and telephone has gave much relief for the region’s estimated seven million population.
About the Author: Tesfa-Alem Tekle is a senior journalist, Editor, content strategist, research and Environmental writer