Eritrean, Ethiopian leaders call new peace example to Africa

Residents carry the Ethiopian and Eritrean national flags as they dance during a concert at the Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 15, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 15 July 2018

Eritrean, Ethiopian leaders call new peace example to Africa

  • The concert highlighted the end of hostilities between the arch-foes in East Africa
  • The antagonism ended last month when Ethiopia accepted a peace deal and Eritrea swiftly responded

ADDIS ABABA: Official rivals just weeks ago, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea embraced warmly to the roar of a crowd of thousands Sunday at a concert celebrating the end of a long state of war.
A visibly moved Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, clasping his hands over his heart, addressed the crowd in Ethiopia’s official language, Amharic, on his first visit to the country in 22 years.
“Hate, discrimination and conspiracy is now over,” the 72-year-old Isaias said to cheers and people chanting his name. “Our focus from now on should be on developing and growing together. We are ready to move forward with you as one. No one can steal the love we have regained now. Now is the time to make up for the lost times.”
The Eritrean leader repeatedly praised the “able leadership” of Ethiopia’s reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who in his own speech thanked Isaias for his “courageous gesture” in accepting the offer of peace.
The concert highlighted the end of hostilities between the arch-foes in East Africa, who fought a bloody border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed tens of thousands and left families separated. The antagonism ended last month when Abiy announced that Ethiopia was fully accepting a peace deal originally signed in 2000 and Eritrea swiftly responded.
“The reconciliation we are forging now is an example to people across Africa and beyond,” the 42-year-old Abiy said.
Jubilant Ethiopians, some of whom have compared the dramatic developments to the fall of the Berlin Wall, found themselves putting aside the World Cup final to watch live coverage of the concert.
Isaias arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday, reciprocating the Ethiopian leader’s trip to Eritrea last weekend that led to the restoration of diplomatic, telephone and transport ties. He was greeted by Abiy in a red-carpet welcome, with people dancing at the airport and thousands of residents of the capital, Addis Ababa, lining the streets to see Isaias’ motorcade.
Some chanted songs criticizing the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, which used to be Ethiopian ruling coalition’s strongest political party and was hostile to Eritrea until Abiy came to power at the beginning of April and introduced a breathtaking series of political and economic reforms.
“Nothing can stop the ongoing reforms in Ethiopia,” Abiy told the crowd Sunday. “But we need to protect the democratic rights we are regaining now.”
The embrace of the peace deal, which hands key disputed border areas to Eritrea, was the boldest of the changes as Ethiopia moves away from years of anti-government protests that demanded wider freedoms in Africa’s second most populous country with more than 100 million people.
Now attention shifts to Eritrea, one of the world’s most reclusive nations, which has been ruled by Isaias since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The state of war with Ethiopia kept the country of 5 million in a constant state of military readiness with a system of compulsory conscription that sent thousands of people fleeing the country toward Europe and elsewhere.
Eritrea also has faced years of UN sanctions over alleged support to extremists, which the government has denied, and Abiy already has called for them to be lifted.
The sight of the Eritrean leader speaking Amharic to reach out to Ethiopians surprised even his longtime acquaintances. “I have known him for more than 40 yrs. Never heard him speak Amharic,” the Eritrean ambassador to Kenya and Tanzania, Beyene Russom, said on Twitter, describing the crowd’s shouts of joy.
The United States and others have praised the end of the state of war between the two countries as a welcome development for the strategic Horn of Africa region and beyond.
Ethiopia’s leader has been quick to promote economic development as a shared goal of the new friendship, giving Isaias a tour of an industrial park and pursuing deals for his landlocked nation to use Eritrea’s ports on the Red Sea along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
The Eritrean leader’s visit to Ethiopia continues Monday as Isaias is expected to re-open his country’s embassy.
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Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 22 February 2019

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”