- Getachew Reda rejects calls for referendums in Raya, Wolkait
The terms of the Pretoria Agreement, particularly those outlining disputed territories, are the subject of renewed tensions between the federal government and the Tigray Interim Administration.
The issue was a priority during discussions between the federal government and the Tigray Interim Administration convened by PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) on February 9, 2024. It marked the first official meeting between the federal government and the TIA since the latter was established a year ago.
Getachew Reda, president of the TIA, Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), TPLF chairman, and General Tsadkan Gebretensae, head of the TIA security division, and General Tadesse Worede were among the participants.
The meeting took place two days after the PM told Parliament the federal government is considering holding a referendum in the disrupted territories, angering TIA officials.
The disputed regions include Raya in southern Tigray, and Wolkait and Tselemt in western Tigray. TIA officials argue these zones had been administered by the Tigray Regional State until the northern war broke out in late 2020.
Following the end of the war, these areas remained occupied by armed groups based out of neighboring Amhara Regional State, according to TIA officials.
On the other hand, officials at the Amhara regional administration contend the disputed territories were originally under Amhara jurisdiction, only ceded to Tigray when the EPRDF came to power three decades ago.
The Pretoria Agreement, which ended the bloody two-year war, stipulates the territory disputes are to be solved based on the Ethiopian constitution. The Agreement directed the territories be returned to Tigray, with discussions on sovereignty to follow. It is a perspective supported by TIA officials.
However, federal statements and the PM’s address to Parliament earlier this week have stirred the pot. The TIA immediately issued a statement following his speech, rejecting the call for a referendum.
A Government Communication Service statement released on February 2, 2024, reads “a referendum has been planned in accordance with the constitution and a consensus was made with the Amhara and Tigray regions in this regard”.
The Interim Administration denounced the statement as “totally false,” criticizing the federal government for issuing it amid ongoing talks to convene a meeting to discuss the implementation of remaining items under the Pretoria Agreement.
The TIA also stated that neither the federal government nor the Interim Administration holds the authority to assert this kind of agreement, besides making an effort to solve the disputes based on articles of the constitution and the Pretoria Agreement.
Despite the federal government repeatedly expressing its interest in holding a referendum, it has yet to put in place the details for such a vote.
The House of Federation, the government entity responsible for approving a referendum, has yet to convene discussions on the subject, though some sources have claimed it has plans to hold the referendum this year.
A decision over the disputed western Tigray areas has been among the most rigid points of argument of the Tigray Interim Administration since its inception in March 2023.
However, a growing interest on the side of the ruling party to assert itself in Tigray is now fuelling the referendum agenda, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The Prosperity Party has a strong interest in taking over the administration of Tigray once the year-and-a-half lifespan of the TIA expires, sources allege. However, the TPLF is taking cautious measures to secure its place in the northernmost regional state.
Following an internal split within the party, the TPLF has been engaged in closed meetings for the past two months. The party has not disclosed any information about the secretive meetings.
“The faction led by Getachew Reda blames the old TPLF leadership for the two years’ war. This team claims to be reformist, by clearing out the old guard of the TPLF, including Debretsion. However, the old guard has substantial support on the ground in Tigray. That is why the TIA led by Getachew has been unable to govern Tigray outside of Mekele,” a source close to the matter told The Reporter.
Sources foresee that unless the TPLF allows the ruling party to take over administrative duties in Tigray either via liquidation or a merger with TPLF, the tensions with the federal government are likely to continue.
“The federal government is also considering making the disputable territories a self-governing regional state, instead of giving these territories either to Tigray or Amhara,” said another anonymous and well-placed source.
The source claims the third option will be included if the referendum is realized.
“The federal government wants these territories, especially since Wolkait is a strategic location that links Tigray with Sudan,” said the source.