Forces in Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region on Wednesday announced starting the handing over of heavy weapons to the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) as part of an African Union-led peace process.
The disarmament process is a central part of the peace deal signed last November between the federal government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Accordingly, the first handing over of heavy weaponry took over on Tuesday in the town of Agulae, around 30 km (18 miles) northeast of the regional capital Mekelle.
“Tigray has handed over its heavy weapons as part of its commitment to implementing the Pretoria agreement,” TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda who also signed the Pretoria peace agreement on behalf of Tigray said in a tweet Wednesday.
“We hope & expect this will go a long way in expediting the full implementation of the agreement. We hope & expect!”
The handing over was held in the presence of the African Union observers, monitoring teams from the two sides and a regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
At the occasion, Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) representative Mulugeta Gebrechristos said the start of the disarmament would play a major role in restoring peace.
“We are operating with the belief that if we are to have peace, all things that open the door for provocation must not be there. Peace is vital for us all,” Mulugeta said in a speech broadcast on the local Tigray TV.
Representative of the Ethiopian army Lieutenant colonel Aleme Tadele on his part confirmed receiving different heavy weapons in accordance to the peace agreement.
“We are all [part of] one Ethiopia. Both us [ENDF and TPLF] and the TDF have moved from our respective defensive positions in peace, understanding and love,” said Aleme Tadesse.
Armored tanks, various sizes of artilleries, rockets and mortars were among the heavy weaponry handed over.
The terms of the November 2 peace agreement include disarming Tigray forces and restoring federal authority in Tigray.
In return, the Ethiopian government will restore long halted basic services such as air transportation, electricity, banking services which has been cut off for over 18 months.
It will also allow unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray, where 80% of the region’s estimated seven million people remain aid dependent.
A follow-up November 12 implementation deal signed in Nairobi further states the disarmament of heavy Tigrayan weapons would take place at the same time as the withdrawal of Eritrean and non-federal forces.
However, it is not yet clear if the Eritrean soldiers had fully withdrawn from territories of the Tigray region.
Fighting broke out in November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed deployed the army to arrest Tigrayan leaders who had been challenging his authority for months and whom he accused of attacking federal military bases.
Neighboring Eritrea has supported the Ethiopian army in fighting in the region but Asmara was not part of the Pretoria talks.
(The East African Daily)