Rebel fighters in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray Region began demobilizing on Friday, marking a new stage in the implementation of a peace deal signed by the federal government and regional authorities, according to media outlets close to both sides.
The two-year war in Africa’s second most populous country killed untold numbers of civilians and forced about two million from their homes before it ended with a surprise truce in November last year.
The demobilization of the Tigray Defense Forces was “set to launch” on Friday afternoon, according to Tigrai TV, the official channel of the Tigray region.
Fighters will start to be transferred to designated sites, it added, citing the African Union (AU) mission overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement.
The Fana Broadcasting Corporate, a media outlet close to the party of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said “the first round of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) ex-combatants’ reintegration and rehabilitation programme was officially launched.”
Members of the AU mission attended the launch in the suburbs of Tigray’s regional capital Mekele, the broadcaster added.
Brigadier General Derbe Mekuria, deputy head of the National Rehabilitation Commission set up by the federal government, called on the Tigrayan fighters to “work to ensure lasting peace.”
“Militants, seize the advantage of this peace to change your own lives and participate in the development of the region and Ethiopia at large,” Mekuria was quoted as saying by Fana.
Tigray representative Brigadier General Megbey Haile also called for peace.
“When you complete the rehabilitation program and reintegrate to the society, you must be a force for development and peace,” he was quoted as saying.
The fighting in Tigray has stopped since the surprise signing of the peace deal on November 2.
Forces from neighboring nation Eritrea, which had supported the Ethiopian army, have mostly left Tigray — though their presence has still been reported in some border areas.
— Haphtom Berhe (@Haphtom) May 26, 2023
The Tigrayan forces began to surrender their heavy weapons in January and disarmament continues.
However forces from the neighboring region of Amhara, which also backed the federal forces, still control the western part of Tigray.
Under the peace deal, disarmament would occur alongside the departure of Eritrean and Amhara troops from Tigray.
The AU did not respond to questions from AFP.