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Will Peace Hold in Tigray? Blinken Visits Ethiopia Four Months After Truce Reached to End War

Written by on 16/03/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

As we continue to look at U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Africa, we turn to Ethiopia. On Wednesday, Blinken met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other top officials, including leaders from the northern Tigray region. Blinken praised the four-month-old peace deal that ended two years of fighting between government troops and forces in Tigray. He called for accountability for war crimes committed, without casting blame on either side.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: The conflict was absolutely devastating — hundreds of thousands killed; widespread sexual violence against women; millions forced to flee their homes; many left in need of food, shelter, medicine; hospitals, schools, businesses shelled, destroyed. The cessation of hostilities agreement is a major achievement and step forward, saving lives, changing lives.

AMY GOODMAN: During his trip, Blinken announced $331 million in new U.S. humanitarian assistance for Ethiopia.

To talk more about Blinken’s trip there, we’re joined by Tsedale Lemma. She is a journalist and the founder of Addis Standard, an English-language monthly news magazine based in Ethiopia. She’s joining us, though, from Germany.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Tsedale. It’s great to have you with us. Talk about the significance of this trip. And what’s actually happening in Ethiopia and in the Tigray region? How is this deal holding up?

TSEDALE LEMMA: Thank you, Amy. Good morning, and thanks for having me again.

It’s an important trip by the secretary of state, because the U.S. is one of the major brokers of the peace deal that was signed in November between the Tigrayan officials and the federal government. And the agreement, the peace agreement, is not really going according to what was stated in the documents that were signed in Pretoria and in Nairobi after that. So it’s very important that the secretary made this trip to push for the implementation, the full implementation, of this agreement, because the implementation is lagging behind. We are not seeing so much — so much has changed, but not enough is on the ground. So it’s important for him to make that visit.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tsedale, could you explain what were the terms of the agreement that you say are not being met?

TSEDALE LEMMA: The terms of the agreement, most importantly, are the establishment — the normalization of relations between the Tigray state and the federal government, and the establishment of an interim government in Tigray regional state, which is really lagging behind, because the federal government, although it’s not stated in the peace agreement, is holding the disbursement of the budget for the regional state until after Tigray formed its interim government — dismantled the previous government that was elected shortly before the war erupted, and established an interim government. So, the federal government is still holding the budget for the regional state. Civil servants are not being paid as we speak. It’s been more than two years. So, this is lagging behind, and they need to put a lot of pressure on this to put it on the fast track.

Other implementation of the peace agreement, the full restoration of services in the region, telecommunication and banking, also it has been restored. The level is not by any chance close to what is needed on the ground. Humanitarian access is also not fully being implemented currently. So it’s very important that the peace agreement is fully complied by both parties.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tsedale, you mentioned that the U.S. was one of the main brokers of this agreement. Who were the other parties involved? And how can the agreement be implemented?

TSEDALE LEMMA: The other parties involved are the African Union itself. And the African Union has, through the support of the U.S. government, established a monitoring and verification mechanism. But we have not had any report from this office so far about the implementation of the peace agreement.

We have seen initially the disarmament of heavy weaponry by the Tigrayan forces, and they have handed that over to the federal government, but foreign forces still remain on the soil of Tigray. In fact, Eritrean forces continued to be implicated in atrocities and rape against Tigrayan civilians. Amhara forces still continue occupying western Tigray and the southern part of Tigray.

So, this report from the verification mechanism has not surfaced so far yet. So, it’s been — the other parties are the African Union itself. So, there is a need for this verification and mechanism office to follow through what has been implemented and what has not been followed through by the parties, particularly the federal government, which has the responsibility of evacuating foreign forces from the sovereign land of Tigray.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about the issue of genocide, Tsedale Lemma. In late 2021, Blinken said the U.S. would decide whether the crimes committed in northern Ethiopia constitute genocide. The State Department — according to a recent piece in Foreign Policy, the State Department drafted a declaration in 2021 that the Ethiopian government’s atrocities in Tigray constituted genocide, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter, but it never released that declaration. Your response?

TSEDALE LEMMA: Yes, I think some of my colleagues on the ground yesterday tried to ask this question to the secretary of state, and he — I think his response was very vague in that regard. Yes, this report, you know, Secretary Blinken — let’s first get back to it — he was the first highest-level U.S. official to admit that an ethnic cleansing take place — did take place in the early days of the war in western Tigray. And this report now that we are learning the designation as a genocide is shelved. I think, you know, the U.S. is trying to leverage diplomacy over the issue of human rights.

I don’t think the U.S. will come forth to publish this report, because designating what happened in Tigray as genocide requires you to follow through, and the U.S. currently is more focused in securing the Ethiopia government’s side or Ethiopia as a partner, as opposed to, you know, competing powers from the Middle East and Russia and China. So the U.S. is in that competition of winning Ethiopia, as it is a traditional ally and a bulwark of stability previously in the Horn of Africa. The region is experiencing quite a lot of competition from these competing powers, and the U.S. wants really to have their prime minister on its side. So I don’t think they will be releasing this report, although it’s somewhere in the shelf sitting there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tsedale, before we conclude, if you could just give us a quick background on the war? What led to the situation and this — the commission of this, effectively, what has been called a genocide?

TSEDALE LEMMA: The war started in November 2020. Previously, in September 2020, Tigray, as a federated member of the Ethiopian federal government, went ahead in holding a unilateral election for regional councilmembers. And after that, the relationship between Tigrayan officials, led by the TPLF, the party that’s governing Tigray today, and the federal government was going down the hill. You know, they were having their sore relations previously already, after the coming of the prime minister. But that election was a watershed moment that really put the final nail on the coffin for the outbreak of this war in November, shortly, two months after Tigray held this election. So, that is really at the heart of the contest between the two.

And the war — the outbreak of the war was also aided and abetted by Eritrea next door, because Eritrea has historically been against the Tigrayan — the TPLF, which was a dominating political figure in the past, previously, before the prime minister came to power. So Eritrea had a score to settle with Tigray.

Abiy Ahmed, as a prime minister, was unhappy that Tigrayans went ahead and held their election for local council. This was not flying well in his anticipation of centralizing power. So the two came together, and the war broke out in November. After that, what took place is for the history books, very tragic unfolding, to the point that now we have a report that designated what took place in Tigray as genocide. But we may not be able to see it, officially, soon.

AMY GOODMAN: Tsedale Lemma, we want to thank you so much for being with us, a journalist, founder of the Addis Standard, an English-language monthly news magazine based in Ethiopia.

Next up, we begin our coverage of the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Stay with us.

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