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Ethiopia's federal government and Tigrayan forces reach a deal

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

After two years of brutal conflict, Ethiopia's federal government and forces from the northern region of Tigray have reached a deal for a permanent cessation of hostilities. Ethiopia's civil war is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Millions more have been displaced. And over 90% of people in Tigray need food aid, according to the World Health Organization.

For more details, we're joined by journalist Kate Bartlett, who is in South Africa. Hi, Kate.

KATE BARTLETT: Hello.

SUMMERS: So, Kate, this deal - could it possibly be the end to one of the world's most brutal conflicts?

BARTLETT: Well, observers certainly hope so. The details of the agreement specify an immediate cessation of hostility and unhindered humanitarian access to the Tigray region. And both sides have agreed there's only one national defense force in Ethiopia, which is no small concession. And they've also agreed a program to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate the Tigrayan forces, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF, combatants. And, you know, both sides have welcomed this agreement. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says the government's commitment to peace is steadfast. The U.S., which had an envoy at the talks, has also welcomed the agreement.

But it's important to note that the conflict involves more than just these two parties. There is a huge question mark over Eritrea, which has been involved in the conflict with thousands of troops, but was not party to the talks in Pretoria. And even during the talks in Pretoria, heavy fighting was ongoing on the ground, with government forces capturing key towns. And again, it's important to note that there has previously been a truce - a five-month truce that was shattered in August.

SUMMERS: Kate, many have called this the world's unseen war. Can you remind us how we got here and what the human cost has been?

BARTLETT: Absolutely. I think a lot of critics have pointed out that, while there's a large focus and a lot of media attention on the war in Ukraine, this war has been going on for two years now. It started almost two years ago to the day. And it began when the federal government in Ethiopia sent troops into Tigray, accusing Tigray forces of attacking their army camps. Now, you know, Ethiopian politics is complicated and there's a long history, but basically, Tigrayans used to dominate Ethiopian politics, and they feel that they've been sidelined under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who, you might remember, came to power and - with a very progressive reputation. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for fostering peace with neighboring Eritrea. But, you know, now hundreds of thousands of civilians have died. And there have been allegations of atrocities on both sides, with rape used as a weapon of war. Hospitals lack medicines. There are food shortages and the threat of famine.

SUMMERS: It's early still, but from your vantage point, what could this deal mean for Tigray? Could the outside world now have access to this region?

BARTLETT: Well, that is what the document they signed today have promised. How long that will take is pretty much anybody's guess at the moment. But, you know, the World Health Organization warned just last week that Tigray has run out of vaccines, out of antibiotics, out of insulin. Some aid supplies did get into the region earlier this year. But when the previous truce broke down in August, that stopped. And so it's been very difficult to get food and medicines through most of the time.

SUMMERS: That's Kate Bartlett reporting from Cape Town, South Africa. Kate, thank you.

BARTLETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Bartlett