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What Ethiopia and Tigray need for peace talks to succeed | Conflict

On August 24, 2022, the wheels fell off an uneasy nine-month truce between the Ethiopian and Tigrayan governments, with an enormous military assault across dozens of fronts in Tigray.

The informal cessation of hostilities had been reached following the withdrawal of Tigrayan forces from the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions in December 2021. In the ensuing period, both parties called for mediation to end the war, as the humanitarian situation in northern Ethiopia deteriorated.

Mediation efforts by the United States to revive the ceasefire in early September failed. The deadly war on Tigray – which has killed more than half a million people, left more than 5.6 million Tigrayans starving and displaced another two million – has flared up again. In some ways, the signs have been ominous for a while: The government in Addis Ababa had, at the start of August, refused to lift the siege on Tigray and had criticised a joint visit by envoys of the United Nations, US, and European Union to the region’s capital Mekelle.

Still, a new window of opportunity for peace has emerged — if the parties to the conflict and bodies like the UN, which is currently meeting in New York, can utilise it urgently.

On September 11, 2022 – the Ethiopian New Year – the government of Tigray expressed its readiness to resume negotiations brokered by the African Union, effectively putting the ball in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s court. Now, proactive mediation is needed to stop the entire region from being sucked into a greater abyss, save tens of thousands of lives and alleviate the suffering of millions.

Negotiations between the governments of Ethiopia and Tigray will determine the future of both the region and the country. In the Horn of Africa, 66 million people are already affected by drought. The stakes for the international community are very high. What then can be done to revive the truce and build a permanent ceasefire? What needs to be done to ensure successful mediation?

Understanding military realities

On one side of the war are Ethiopian, Amhara and Eritrean forces marshalling the resources of a population of more than 120 million with two sovereign states and their foreign allies providing military-grade drones. On the other side are the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) representing the popular resistance of the fewer than eight million people of Tigray. Their war of attrition will reach the two-year mark on November 4, 2022.

The success of mediation efforts heavily depends on the military realities on the ground, the political will of the warring parties and the determination of the international community to end the war – as demonstrated by the diplomatic, financial, and other resources it deploys.

Furthermore, the success of mediation also depends on the mediators and their strategies. That in turn will determine the process, structure and agenda for talks, how different issues at stake are prioritised and other key ingredients for negotiations. In this instance, the AU, as the lead mediator in consultation with other envoys, has yet to develop a clear strategy. That could be dangerous because discredited mediation leaves conflicts even more convoluted than before and reduces trust in the utility of such efforts.

Impartial mediator needed

Following the reservations expressed by Tigray over the current African Union (AU) envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, it is imperative that the organisation appoint other mediators acceptable to both parties.

Impartiality is the cornerstone of proactive mediation. Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been engaging both parties, was appointed by his successor, William Ruto, to serve as his country’s envoy for Ethiopia and the Great Lakes. The US, EU and others have endorsed Kenyatta’s appointment. The AU should consider swiftly appointing Kenyatta as its envoy to Ethiopia too, while Obasanjo remains the envoy for the Horn.

Crucial next steps

To achieve military disengagement, it is critical to cease hostilities. This will allow a return to peaceful negotiations towards a ceasefire and transitional security arrangement. Unlike a mere truce, a ceasefire requires an overall agreement on the political agenda for the items of peace negotiations.

That agenda must include confidence-building measures, including unimpeded access to humanitarian aid and the immediate resumption of civilian transportation, electricity, telecommunications, banking services, salary payments, fuel deliveries and other items critical to survival for millions in Tigray. These are prerequisites for negotiations. Another confidence-building measure would be the release of prisoners of war and political prisoners, including Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian army and security sector.

To commence the process and prepare the ground for substantive and intricate politico-military negotiations, a Declaration of Principles – laying out parameters for the talks – should be made to guide the mediation process.

None of this will be easy. There are several thorny issues involved. They include demands from Tigray for the withdrawal of all non-TDF forces from all territories of the region, in effect returning to pre-war military positions. Ethiopia needs to recognise the TDF as the sole provider of security for Tigray and respect the will of the region’s people, including their right to hold a referendum within an agreed-upon time frame. Finally, there needs to be legal accountability before an international tribunal for atrocities established by the recent report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts (ICHRE) on Ethiopia.

International community involvement

Finding agreement on these issues and bridging differences in a way that is anchored in respect for human rights will require unified international support for the mediation.

Effective mediation, in turn, needs robust and coercive compliance mechanisms and enforcement measures against violators, including provisions for sanctions on selected individuals, regional travel bans, freezing of assets and exclusion from political office in future governance arrangements.

The war on Tigray resumed partly due to the failure of the pan-African and international community to take concrete measures to end Ethiopia’s siege of the region. The Ukraine war has deflected the international community’s resources, leadership and attention away from the catastrophic war in Ethiopia — and laid bare some glaring double standards.

After all, in terms of magnitude and the humanitarian consequences, the conflict in Ukraine — while horrific — pales in comparison to the ongoing battles of attrition in Tigray, which have already claimed more than 500,000 lives.

The UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly must urgently discuss the situation in Ethiopia and deliberate on the report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, submitted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.

Just a tiny fraction of what the Western world has so far spent in support of Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s invasion could have stopped the war in the Horn of Africa, ending the suffering of hundreds of millions.

For peace to truly take hold in the region, the world needs to wake up. Now.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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Russian proxies in Ukraine claim victory in annexation votes | Russia-Ukraine war News

Russian-installed officials in occupied regions of Ukraine are reporting huge majorities in favour of becoming part of Russia after five days of voting in so-called “referendums” that Kyiv and the West denounced as a sham.

Hastily arranged votes took place in four areas – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson – that make up about 15 percent of Ukrainian territory.

By late on Tuesday evening Russia-installed election officials announced that 93 percent of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhia region were in support of annexation, as were 87 percent of ballots in the southern Kherson region and 98 percent in Luhansk.

Results from the Donetsk region were expected to follow later on Tuesday.

Within the occupied territories, Russian-installed officials took ballot boxes from house to house in what Ukraine and the West said was an illegitimate, coercive exercise to create a legal pretext for Russia to annex the four regions.

President Vladimir Putin could then portray any Ukrainian attempt to recapture them as an attack on Russia itself. He said last week he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend the “territorial integrity” of Russia.

Displaced people from the four regions were able to cast votes in Russia, where state news agency RIA said early counts showed numbers in excess of 96 percent in favour of coming under Moscow’s rule.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the UN Security Council in a virtual address on Tuesday shortly after word came that pro-Moscow officials said that residents in the Zaporizhia region voted to join Russia.

“In front of the eyes of the whole world Russia is conducting this so-called sham referendum on the occupied territory of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.” People are forced to fill out some papers while being threatened by submachine guns.”

Zelenskyy said annexation could mean an end to negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and he implored the world body to address the situation and put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Annexation is the kind of move that puts him alone against the whole of humanity. Such a clear signal is now needed from every country in the world. I believe in your ability to act.”


Hoda Abdel-Hamid reporting from Kryvyi Rih, located just west of Zaporizhia, said that most people she spoke to said they already “know the results of the referendum, without waiting the full five days of voting. Other people are worried about what happens after the referendum.

“We saw over the past five days, civilians trying to get out of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, and they’ve been saying all along the same thing – some would tell you that this referendum for them was the last [straw].

“They said that, lately, it had become much more strict and much harder to live, but there is that fear of mobilisation [into the Russian forces],” Abdel-Hamid said.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba urged the European Union to impose further economic sanctions on Russia to punish it for staging the votes, which he said would not change Ukraine’s actions on the battlefield.

The votes mirrored a referendum in Crimea after Russia’s seizure of the region from Ukraine in 2014, when Crimea’s leaders declared a 97 percent vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

Putin said on state TV on Tuesday that the votes were designed to protect people from what he has called the persecution of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers by Ukraine, something that Kyiv has denied.

“Saving people in all the territories where this referendum is being held is at the top of our minds and the focus of attention of our entire society and country,” he said.

Moscow has acted in recent months to “Russify” areas under its control, including by issuing people with Russian passports and rewriting school curriculums.

The referendums were hurriedly brought forward this month after Ukraine seized the momentum on the battlefield by routing Russian forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Valentina Matviyenko, head of the upper house of the Russian parliament, said that if the vote results were favourable, it could consider the incorporation of the four regions on October 4, three days before Putin celebrates his 70th birthday.

Nuclear warning

As Russia began releasing the results of the referendums, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and an ally of Putin, issued a stark new nuclear warning to Ukraine and the West.

Medvedev’s warning differed from earlier ones in that he predicted for the first time that the NATO military alliance would not risk a nuclear war and directly enter the Ukraine war even if Moscow struck Ukraine with nuclear weapons.

“I believe that NATO would not directly interfere in the conflict even in this scenario,” Medvedev said in a post on Telegram.

“The demagogues across the ocean and in Europe are not going to die in a nuclear apocalypse.”

Meanwhile in Kharkiv, three explosions were heard, and then electricity cut out on Tuesday, a Reuters news agency witness reported.

There are no lights in some parts of the city. Information about casualties is being specified,” Kharkiv’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said on his Telegram channel. He also reported a fourth attack.

Terekhov said an infrastructure facility was hit and said authorities were working to restore power as quickly as possible.

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China gifts two giant pandas to Qatar ahead of FIFA World Cup | Qatar World Cup 2022 News

Pandas ‘Suhail’ and ‘Soraya’ will arrive in October ahead of the World Cup as a ‘new symbol of China-Qatar friendship’.

China announced that it will give Qatar two giant pandas to mark the FIFA World Cup being held in the state in November and December.

Chinese ambassador to Qatar, Zhou Jian, said that pandas named “Suhail” and “Soraya” would arrive in the country next month, ahead of the football tournament that will start on November 20.

“This is a gift presented by the 1.4 billion Chinese people for the Qatar World Cup, and will surely become a new symbol of China-Qatar friendship,” the envoy said at a reception.

While China’s team did not qualify for the World Cup, Chinese companies have been involved in the construction of mega projects around the event.

After Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was one of a few world leaders who attended the controversial Winter Olympics in China, President Xi Jinping said he was ready to launch panda cooperation with the Middle East.

China is increasingly isolated from Western powers over issues like its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Consequently, “it is still trying to capitalise on the World Cup and how better to do that than with a bit of panda diplomacy”, said Al Jazeera’s Patrick Fok, reporting from Beijing.

Suhail is the name of one of the brightest stars visible in the Gulf region, while Soraya is the Arabic name for the Pleiades star cluster.

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As petrol prices fall, US consumers more confident | Business and Economy News

More people were planning to buy cars, big appliances but fewer were ready to buy homes as interest rates have risen.

US consumers grew more confident for the second month in a row as petrol prices continued to fall.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 108 in September, from 103.6 in August. The back-to-back monthly increases follow three straight monthly declines as American households were hammered by rising prices, particularly at the petrol pump.

The business research group’s present situation index — which measures consumers’ assessment of current business and labour market conditions — also rose again, to 149.6 in September from 145.3 in August.

The board’s expectations index — a measure of consumers’ six-month outlook for income, business and labour conditions — rose to 80.3 in September from 75.8 in August.

Analysts surveyed by data provider FactSet had expected consumer confidence to rise slightly as petrol prices have fallen from highs around the middle of the year of more than $5 per gallon ($1.30 per litre). AAA motor club says the average price for a gallon of petrol in the US fell to $3.75 ($0.99 per litre) on Tuesday.

Although by some measures, inflation appears to have slowed recently, the cost for most things are still significantly higher than they were a year ago.

Earlier this month, the government reported that consumer prices rose 8.3 percent from a year earlier and 0.1 percent from July. But the jump in “core” prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, remained worrisome. It outpaced expectations and stoked fears that the Federal Reserve would boost interest rates more aggressively and raise the risk of a recession.

Driven by high rents, medical care and new cars, core prices leapt 6.3 percent for the year ending in August and 0.6 percent from July to August, the government reported earlier this month.

Since March, the Federal Reserve has implemented its fastest pace of rate increases in decades to try to curb four-decade high inflation, which has punished households with soaring costs for food, petrol, rent and other necessities.

Last week, the Fed boosted its benchmark short-term rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 3 percent to 3.25 percent, the highest level since early 2008. It was the central bank’s third straight three-quarter-point increase and most economists and analysts expected more increases before the year ends.

Lynn Franco, the Conference Board’s senior director of economic indicators, said that consumers’ purchasing intentions for big-ticket items were mixed. More people said they expected to buy cars or big appliances in the near future, but fewer said they intend to buy a house anytime soon, as rising interest rates have added hundreds of dollars a month to mortgage payments.

Last week, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate on a 30-year mortgage rose to 6.29 percent, the highest level since October of 2008 when the housing market crashed, triggering the Great Recession.

“Looking ahead, the improvement in confidence may bode well for consumer spending in the final months of 2022, but inflation and interest-rate hikes remain strong headwinds to growth in the short term,” Franco said.

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