Obasanjo pledges a way out for ‘foreign troops’ in Tigray
TPLF puts condition to disarm
The African Union high-level panels that facilitated negotiations between the federal government and the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) are concerned about the implementation progress of the Pretoria and Nairobi agreements. The presence of “foreign powers” has become the Achilles heel for implementing the agreements, raising fears of a fourth round of war.
On November 24, AU’s delegation team comprised of Olusegun Obasanjo, AU’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Bankole Adeoye (Amb.), commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security (PAPS) at the AU, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former deputy president of South Africa, arrived in Mekelle in an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aircraft.
This is his ninth visit to Mekelle, according to Obasanjo’s recent commentary piece on the negotiation process.
The latest visit was initiated by AU, according to insiders close to the matter.
After being briefed by TPLF officials on the implementation progress of the peace agreements, Obasanjo was seen echoing his concerns during the meeting.
“These have been issues that we have been talking about, and working on the issue of foreign troops,” said Obasanjo during the discussion with TPLF officials, including Debretsion Gebremicahel (PhD), president of the region. “No country should accept the presence of foreign power in their land. In our meetings in Pretoria and Nairobi, these issues came up for discussion and way out to do. We will do our best regarding the issues you mentioned and those you did not mention.”
Obasanjo discussed the presence of foreign troops publicly for the first time. The AU delegation team flew to Mekelle, two days after the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD), spoke over the phone regarding the immediate implementation of the agreement.
Blinken underscored the importance of immediately implementing the cessation of hostilities, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and concurrent disarmament of the Tigrian forces, according to State Department spokesperson, Ned Price.
TPLF officials pointed out Eritrean troops’ presence in Tigray.
“We are doing our part regarding the disarmament. But Eritrean forces want us to enter a fourth round of war. They are committing atrocities in occupied areas,” Wondimu Asaminew (Amb.), member of the Tigray negotiating team, told local media during the event in Mekelle. “We hope the AU will do something about the issue.”
Both the federal government and Eritrean forces did not respond to any claims regarding the presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray. However, the Nairobi Agreement of Commanders acknowledged the presence of foreign powers.
“Disarmament of heavy weapons will be done concurrently with the withdrawal of foreign and non-ENDF forces from the region,” states the declaration on the implementation of the agreement for lasting peace. The declaration was signed by Birhanu Jula (Marshal) and Tadesse Worede (Gen.) on November 12, 2022, in Nairobi, Kenya.
The agreement also states that disarmament will take place one month after it is signed. However, TPLF officials recently disclosed a new term that opposes disarmament unless Eritrean forces and all non-ENDF forces withdraw from Tigray.
“The disarmament can take months, if not years,” Getachew Reda, TPLF spokesperson and member of the negotiating team, told the BBC the same day the AU delegation visited Mekelle.
“We are not going to lay down our arms just because there is an agreement. ….the deal will be implemented as long as the federal government convinces Eritrean forces and all non-ENDF forces to withdraw from Tigray,” Getachew said. He also mentioned that “political games” are behind the delays in service and flights to Mekelle.
However, on November 25, 2022, the World Food Programme (WFP) disclosed that the flow of humanitarian assistance has resumed through four corridors opened to the Tigray region, despite critical shortages on the funding side.
The AU is highly concerned that the issue of foreign troops might bog down the peace agreements, according to a political analyst who is following up on the recent developments regarding the implementation of the peace agreements.
The analyst does not think Eritrea would request more than just a buffer zone on the border. “TPLF officials are bringing up the Eritrean issue as a bargaining chip to get a guarantee that they will be part of the transitional government, as well as impunity from any accountability over past war crimes.”