Redwan Hussien Rameto (2-L), representative of the Ethiopian government, and Getachew Reda (2-R), representative of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, sign a African Union-brokered peace agreement at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation offices in Pretoria, South Africa, on Wednesday. Photo by Alet Pretorius/EPA-EFE
Nov. 3 (UPI) -- The warring sides in Ethiopia's bloody civil war have reached an agreement to end hostilities, the African Union said, marking a significant step toward an official end to the fighting that has created a humanitarian crisis in the African nation's northernmost region of Tigray.
The surprise African Union-brokered agreement was signed Wednesday by Ethiopia's democratic government and the ethnic-nationalist Tigray People's Liberation Front before various representatives in Pretoria, South Africa, following cessation talks that were launched Oct. 25.
According to the agreement, both sides "agree to permanently silence the guns and end the two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia."
"The conflict has brought a tragic degree of loss of lives and livelihoods and it is in the interest of the entire people of Ethiopia to leave this chapter of conflict behind and live in peace and harmony," the two sides said in the agreement.
In a statement, the 55-member union described the agreement as an important step toward silencing those arms, which have killed thousands in Tigray while displacing hundreds of thousands and forcing millions into dire need of humanitarian aid.
Along with immediately ending hostilities, the agreement will see the resumption of unhindered humanitarian access and the restoration of services as well the start of healing and reconciliation efforts.
"As the country embarks on this next chapter in its great history, the [African Union] Panel affirms its commitment and readiness to continue accompanying the process toward a more democratic, just and inclusive Ethiopia in which youth, women and men participate fully in peace," the African Union said.
The war began in November 2020 between the armies of Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea against the Tigray People's Liberation Front following growing regional and ethnic tensions.
The United Nations has as recently as last Friday warned that more than 5.2 million people in Tigray are in need of humanitarian assistance, with the World Health Organization stating its workers need to reach 3.8 million of those people as they require health assistance.
It has also repeatedly stated that civilians have suffered greatly under the conflict, with an international commission of human rights experts producing a report in September that documents methods of warfare used by both sides to include extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence and starvation of the civilian population.
The extent of the violations amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, it said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement as a "critical first step" toward ending the war, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement, while urging all Ethiopians and the international community to support "the bold step."
The agreement on Wednesday follows a five-month-long ceasefire that ended in August and saw an increase in violence that thrusted civilians back into harms way.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said mid-October that since the fighting resumed his office has received numerous reports of civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian objects due to airstrikes and artillery in Tigray.
Disruptions had made it difficult for him and his staff to confirm report, "but it is clear that the toll on civilians is utterly staggering," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington "commends" the parties for agreeing to end the war and to pursue dialogue as the method to resolve remaining issues to consolidate peace.
"We welcome the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians that should result from implementation of this agreement," he said in a statement.