Ethiopia’s warring sides agreed Wednesday to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a conflict believed to have killed hundreds of thousands-Zamkuwire - Zamkuwire.com

Ethiopia’s warring sides agreed Wednesday to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a conflict believed to have killed hundreds of thousands-Zamkuwire

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Lead negotiator for Ethiopia’s government, Redwan Hussein, left, shakes hands with lead Tigray negotiator Getachew Reda, as Kenya's former president, Uhuru Kenyatta looks on, after the peace talks in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Ethiopia’s warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities, an African Union special envoy said Wednesday, after a 2-year conflict whose victims could be counted in the hundreds of thousands. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Ethiopia’s warring sides agreed Wednesday to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a conflict believed to have killed hundreds of thousands, but enormous challenges lie ahead, including getting all parties to lay down arms or withdraw.

The war in Africa’s second-most populous country, which marks two years on Friday, has seen abuses documented on both sides, with millions of people displaced and many near famine.

“The level of destruction is immense,” said the lead negotiator for Ethiopia’s government, Redwan Hussein. Lead Tigray negotiator Getachew Reda expressed a similar sentiment and noted that “painful concessions” had been made. Exhausted Ethiopians, urged by the parties to “stop voices of division and hate,” watched them shake hands.FILE - The city of Mekele is seen through a bullet hole in a stairway window of the Ayder Referral Hospital in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 6, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)FILE - Ethiopian government soldiers ride in the back of a truck on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 8, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

A draft text of the agreement, shared with The Associated Press by a diplomat, says Tigray forces will be disarmed, starting with “light weapons” within 30 days of Wednesday’s signing, and Ethiopian federal security forces will take full control of “all federal facilities, installations, and major infrastructure such as airports and highways within the Tigray region.” The final, detailed agreement was not made public, but the brief joint statement notes “a detailed program of disarmament” and ”restoration of constitutional order” in Tigray.

Ethiopia’s government will continue restoring basic services to the Tigray region, where communications, transport and banking links for more than 5 million people have been severed since fighting began. The parties also commit to unfettered humanitarian access.

Lead negotiator for Ethiopia’s government, Redwan Hussein, left, exchanges documents with lead Tigray negotiator Getachew Reda, right, as Alhaji Sarjoh Bah, Director of conflict management of the African Union looks on, after the peace talks signing in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)FILE - A woman waits to receive foodstuffs such as wheat, yellow split peas and vegetable oil at a food distribution operated by the Relief Society of Tigray in the town of Agula, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 8, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

FILE - A destroyed tank is seen by the side of the road south of Humera, in an area of western Tigray annexed by the Amhara region during the ongoing conflict, in Ethiopia, on May 1, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

“The devil will be in the implementation,” said former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who helped facilitate the talks. An African Union panel with representatives from both sides and Africa experts will monitor the process.

It was not immediately clear when independent journalists and human rights researchers would be allowed into Tigray.

Major questions remain. Neighboring Eritrea, which has fought alongside Ethiopia, was not part of the peace talks. It’s not clear to what extent its deeply repressive government, which has long considered Tigray authorities a threat, will respect the agreement. The draft says the Ethiopian and Tigray sides agree to stop “collusion with any external force hostile to either party.” Eritrea’s information minister didn’t reply to questions.

FILE - A fighter loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), center, smokes a cigarette as he walks along a street in the town of Hawzen, then-controlled by the group, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 7, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)FILE - Fighters loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) walk along a street in the town of Hawzen, then controlled by the group, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 7, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Eritrean forces have been blamed for some of the conflict’s worst abuses, including gang rapes, and witnesses have described killings and lootings by Eritrean forces even during the peace talks. On Wednesday, a humanitarian source said several women in the town of Adwa reported being raped by Eritrean soldiers, and some were badly wounded. The source, like many on the situation inside Tigray, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Forces from Ethiopia’s neighboring Amhara region also have been fighting Tigray forces, but Amhara representatives also were not part of the talks. “Amharas cannot be expected to abide by any outcome of a negotiations process from which they think they are excluded,” said Tewodrose Tirfe, chairman of the Amhara Association of America.

But observers long strained by the conflict welcomed the agreement. “This is very much a welcome first step,” said the United Nations secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters she was delighted because “what it means is that lives will be saved.”

FILE - A fighter loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) mans a guard post on the outskirts of the town of Hawzen in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 7, 2021. A year after war began there, the findings of the only human rights investigation allowed in Ethiopia's blockaded Tigray region will be released Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

FILE - Ethiopian military parade with national flags attached to their rifles at a rally organized by local authorities to show support for the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), at Meskel square in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Nov. 7, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo, File)FILE - Refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region ride a bus going to the Village 8 temporary shelter, near the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan on Dec. 1, 2020. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)FILE - Elena, 7, center, lines up with other displaced Tigrayans to receive food donated by local residents at a reception center for the internally displaced in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, on May 9, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Another critical question is how soon aid can return to Tigray. Doctors have described running out of basic medicines like vaccines, insulin and therapeutic food while people die of easily preventable diseases and starvation. U.N. human rights investigators have said the Ethiopian government was using “starvation of civilians” as a weapon of war.

“We’re back to 18th-century surgery,” a surgeon at the region’s flagship hospital, Fasika Amdeslasie, told health experts at an online event Wednesday. “It’s like an open-air prison.”

A humanitarian source said their organization could resume operations almost immediately if unfettered aid access to Tigray is granted.

“It entirely depends on what the government agrees to. … If they genuinely give us access, we can start moving very quickly, in hours, not weeks,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The conflict began in November 2020, less than a year after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with Eritrea, which borders the Tigray region. Abiy’s government has since declared the Tigray authorities, who ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades before Abiy took office, a terrorist organization. The Ethiopian government will facilitate the lifting of that designation, the draft agreement says.FILE - People walk from a rural area towards a nearby town where a food distribution operated by the Relief Society of Tigray was taking place, near the town of Agula, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 8, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)FILE - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, center, arrives for the inauguration ceremony of Somalia's new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Mogadishu, Somalia on June 9, 2022. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)

FILE - Tigrayan women Tarik, 60, center, and Meresaeta, left, who fled from the town of Samre, roast coffee beans over a wood stove in a classroom where they now live at the Hadnet General Secondary School which has become a makeshift home to thousands displaced by the conflict, in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on May 5, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)FILE - Haftom Gebretsadik, a 17-year-old from Freweini, Ethiopia, near Hawzen, who had his right hand amputated and lost fingers on his left after an artillery round struck his home in March, sits on his bed at the Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, on May 6, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

The brutal fighting, which also spilled into the Amhara and Afar regions as Tigray forces pressed toward the capital last year, was renewed in August in Tigray after months of lull that allowed thousands of trucks of aid into the region. According to minutes of a Tigray Emergency Coordination Center meeting on Oct. 21, seen by the AP, health workers reported 101 civilians killed by drone strikes and airstrikes, and 265 injured, between Sept. 27 and Oct. 10 alone.

“The agreement signed today in South Africa is monumental in moving Ethiopia forward on the path of the reforms we embarked upon four and half years ago,” Abiy said in a statement after the agreement. “Our commitment to peace remains steadfast.”

But he made clear he saw the agreement as a win for his government. In a speech hours before Wednesday’s announcement, the prime minster said: “We need to replicate the victory we got on the battlefield in peace efforts, too.”

FILE - Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a final campaign rally at a stadium in the town of Jimma in the southwestern Oromia Region of Ethiopia on June 16, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)

Lead negotiator for Ethiopia’s government, Redwan Hussein, left, exchanges documents with lead Tigray negotiator Getachew Reda, right, as African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, center, looks on after the peace talks in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Ethiopia’s warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities, an African Union special envoy said Wednesday, after a 2-year conflict whose victims could be counted in the hundreds of thousands. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)FILE - People are seen in front of clouds of black smoke from fires in the aftermath at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on Oct. 20, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo, File)FILE - An Ethiopian woman argues with others over the allocation of yellow split peas after it was distributed by the Relief Society of Tigray in the town of Agula, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Ethiopia's warring sides have formally agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities in a 2-year conflict, negotiators for the parties announced Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

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