Sunday, April 21, 2024
In DepthCan Ethiopia manage the rehabilitation of ex-combatants?

Can Ethiopia manage the rehabilitation of ex-combatants?

In July 2023, more than 50,000 fighters of the former Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) were demobilized as part of the peace agreement that ended two years of brutal conflict in the Ethiopian north.

Among them was Kibrom, who asked his last name be withheld. He was sent home that month with a letter of acknowledgement and 6,000 birr (equivalent to three months’ pay for TDF conscripts) after spending nearly two years in some of the harshest conditions imaginable.

Kibrom used to reside in Addis Ababa and run a business for a living before he made the decision to move to Axum, Tigray, in 2020, with intentions of expanding his trade there.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Kibrom found himself in the midst of a full-blown conflict barely a few months after making the move, with no means of escape. Soon after war broke out in November 2020, Kibrom was compelled to join the TDF and fight against federal forces until the Pretoria Agreement was signed two years later.

Kibrom has lost everything he owned as a result of the war.

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“I’ve never faced such hardship in my life before,” he told The Reporter. “There were times we’d spend three or more days trekking through mountains without food.”

A few months after leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and federal officials signed the peace deal in South Africa, Kibrom and tens of thousands of others like him were told they were no longer fighters for the TDF and discharged as part of an agreement for demobilization and disarmament.

The authorities assured Kibrom it would be a smooth transition. It turned out to be anything but that.

“I’ve been left to fend for myself with no help,” said Kibrom.

Under pressure and without options, Kibrom has since moved back to Addis in hopes of finding a job.

“Sadly, I haven’t yet come across any opportunities,” he told The Reporter.

Kibrom’s testimony provides insight into the difficulties faced by tens of thousands of ex-combatants, both in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia. Reports reveal there are still thousands more slated for disarmament as part of a nationwide initiative overseen by Teshome Toga (Amb.), head of the National Rehabilitation Commission.

Established following the Pretoria Agreement in late 2022, the Commission is tasked with demobilizing more than 371,000 ex-combatants in the country.

The Commission has developed a guiding framework to tackle the Herculean task ahead of it, but even with help from the UN, the actual demobilization process has yet to get off the ground. Insufficient funding and the lack of resources required for rehabilitation efforts have proved a critical bottleneck.

“The initial plan aimed to demobilize combatants in Tigray in accordance with the peace accord and rehabilitate all combatants nationwide,” Teshome told The Reporter. “But the endeavor faces formidable obstacles due to the immense amount of resources needed.”

The demobilization process is forecasted to last up to five years and cost close to USD 850 million.

The slow start and other developments surrounding demobilization have been a source of concern and friction for the signatories of the Pretoria Agreement since they inked the deal almost a year and a half ago.

Back in November 2022, General Tadesse Worede, deputy head of the Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) and head of the regional cabinet secretariat for peace and security, disclosed the commencement of demobilization for over 50,000 former combatants, marking a pivotal step in the peace process.

Kibrom was among these former combatants when he was discharged the following July.

Nevertheless, Tadesse had also stated there would not be full disarmament in Tigray unless certain conditions were met.

“If other factions show disinterest in the peace process, we have no justification to completely disarm,” said Tadesse.

Getachew Reda, TIA president, reaffirmed this during a press briefing in Mekelle on February 12, 2024. He told journalists there are still over 270,000 fighters under TDF awaiting demobilization and reintegration into society.

The press briefing took place in the days following a meeting between senior TIA officials and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) in the capital – the first since the signing in Pretoria.

Can Ethiopia manage the rehabilitation of ex-combatants? | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

Getachew argued that the federal government bears the responsibility of funding the demobilization process and withdrawing other forces from the disputed regions in accordance with the initial agreement.

“The federal government’s failure to fulfill its obligations is why the Tigray forces remain armed and have not undergone demobilization,” he said.

This week, members of the AU panel, observers from UN, EU, IGAD and the US convened in Addis Ababa to take stock of the status of the implementation of Pretoria agreement.

“If we are to achieve lasting peace in Ethiopia and in the region, the fullest possible implementation of the Pretoria agreement is an imperative hence the need for serious review of the CoHA with a view to fully addressing the legitimate constitutional demands of the people of Tigray without which sustainable peace in Ethiopia or entire region will remain but a pipe dream. This is a long overdue and we should do everything to make it work,” stated Getachew, stressing full implementation of the long overdue CoHA, is not optional. 

Despite the federal government’s silence regarding the armed forces, the Eritrean government denounced Getachew’s announcement as “audacious” and accused the TPLF of hindering the implementation of the Pretoria Agreement in a statement released two weeks later.

The statement accused the TPLF of trying to use Eritrea as a “scapegoat” for what it says is a hidden agenda. The Eritrean government denied allegations of “continued presence of Eritrean troops in some parts of the Tigray Region” and emphasized that “Eritrean troops are found inside Eritrean sovereign territories.”

During a recent interview with state television, Abraham Belay, minister of Defense, disclosed the formation of a committee to investigate the allegations and provide solutions to areas of Tigray currently under Eritrean military occupation.

The committee is also making efforts to repatriate war refugees, according to Abraham.

The Minister conceded the progress of implementation has been hindered by delays in repatriating IDPs.

“After the signing of the Pretoria Peace Agreement, it’s crucial to highlight that the repatriation of displaced individuals from the western and southern zones of Tigray to their residences has encountered delays, but it remains a priority,” he said. “I couldn’t be more delighted about the peace accord, as it has prevented further deterioration in numerous aspects. The government representatives who courageously inked the deal on behalf of the federal government are true heroes for halting further loss of life. Nevertheless, it’s unrealistic to expect the peace agreement to resolve all of Tigray’s issues. Instead, we should regard it as the most significant outcome of the accord.”

He further said that with the exception of a handful, most regions in Tigray came under the control of the federal government post-war. However, following the Pretoria Agreement, local administration assumed control, except for disputed territories retained by the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) to prevent further conflict and casualties.

“Before the agreement, Eritrean forces occupied various parts of Tigray, but they withdrew post-agreement. If any areas or districts remain contentious, we are collaborating with a joint team of both federal and Tigray interim administration representatives to thoroughly assess them and devise solutions.”

The Minister told state media that “everything is proceeding as planned.”

Meanwhile, the TIA recently declared its intentions to engage exclusively with mediators concerning the implementation of the peace accord.

During a press briefing on February 27, 2024, Redae Halefom, head of communications for TIA, alleged that Eritrean forces maintain a formidable presence in numerous districts and localities within Tigray, where full administrative control by the local government has yet to be established.

He said the failure to execute the Pretoria Peace Agreement has resulted in ongoing hardships and loss of life among the region’s populace.

“The Tigray Interim Administration, the federal government, and the international community are presently engaged in discussions to ensure comprehensive implementation of the entire agreement,” said Redae.

Amidst growing tensions between the federal government and the Tigray Interim Administration over unmet expectations of the Pretoria deal, the US State Department announced on March 6, 2024, that Mike Hammer, special envoy to the Horn, would visit Ethiopia for a week beginning March 7.

The purpose of his visit is to “participate in discussions regarding the implementation of the Pretoria agreement between the federal government and the Tigray force,” according to the State Department.

The statement emphasizes the ongoing need for significant efforts to establish lasting peace beyond the cessation of hostilities. It also calls for continued progress in the disarmament and rehabilitation of combatants, ensuring a credible transitional justice process, and facilitating the swift return of displaced citizens to their homes.

The press release says the Special Envoy will engage with federal government officials to address conflicts in the Amhara and Oromia regions through dialogue.

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