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Ethiopia appoints rebel leader to head regional government

Lead negotiator for Ethiopia's government, Redwan Hussein, left, and lead Tigray....   -  
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Themba Hadebe/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.


The Ethiopian government on Thursday appointed a Tigrayan rebel figure to head the interim government of the northern region, a major step in the implementation of a peace deal signed by the two sides after two years of civil war.

"Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has appointed Getachew Reda as chairman of the interim administration of the Tigray region," Ahmed's office said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Getachew Reda, an adviser to the leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Debretsion Gebremichael, was previously the spokesperson for the movement.

On Wednesday, Ethiopian MPs removed the TPLF from the list of terrorist entities, as provided for in the peace agreement signed by the rebel movement with the Ethiopian government last November in Pretoria.

The removal of the terrorist designation paved the way for the establishment of an "inclusive" interim Tigrayan regional government, also provided for in the agreement, to be led by the TPLF until elections can be held.

Getachew Reda was previously Minister of Information in the Ethiopian federal government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn between 2012 and 2018.

He has since become the public face of the TPLF, for whom he signed the African Union (AU)-mediated Pretoria Agreement with Abiy Ahmed's National Security Adviser, Redwan Hussein.

In accordance with the peace agreement, the fighting has stopped, basic services (electricity, telecommunications, banks, etc.) have begun to be re-established in Tigray, and access to the region - which was virtually cut off from the world for nearly two years - has been reopened, notably to the humanitarian aid on which 90% of its six million inhabitants depend.

- American pressure -

Long all-powerful, the TPLF governed Ethiopia de facto for three decades before being gradually marginalised on the arrival of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018, following several months of popular protest.

This movement was classified as terrorist by the Ethiopian authorities on 6 May 2021, six months after the start of the war in Tigray.

The war began in November 2020, when Abiy Ahmed sent the federal army to Tigray, accusing the authorities in the region who had been challenging his power for several months of attacking federal military bases there.

The toll of the conflict, marked by terrible atrocities, is difficult to establish, but the United States estimates that about 500,000 people have died, more than the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The war has, in the eyes of Washington in particular, transformed Abiy Ahmed, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending 20 years of open or latent war between Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea, from a symbol of a new generation of modern African leaders to a virtual pariah.

The conflict has deprived Ethiopia of some of the international aid - and the foreign exchange that goes with it - on which it depends. Washington has excluded it from the benefits of the Agoa, a mechanism that exempts some African countries from export taxes to the US.

These steps towards peace come shortly after the mid-March visit to Addis Ababa by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which he put pressure on Ethiopia by linking the resumption of a broad economic partnership with Washington to "reconciliation and accountability" for the atrocities committed in Tigray.

On his return from Africa on Monday, Antony Blinken accused all the belligerents in the conflict of committing war crimes, saying that many of them were not "random" or "an indirect consequence of war" but "calculated and deliberate".

He also accused the Ethiopian Federal Army and its allies - the Eritrean army and forces and militias in the Amhara region - of crimes against humanity - including "murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence and persecution" - without implicating the TPLF in this.

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