, 28 November, 2020 / 5:00 PM
The leadership of Pax Christi International, a global Catholic peace movement, has expressed “great” concerns about the ongoing violent conflict in Ethiopia pitting the Federal government against the local authorities of the country’s Northernmost Tigray region.
In a statement circulated Thursday, November 26, officials of the Belgium-based movement say they are following the violent conflict “with great concern.” They call on the two sides to strive for an inclusive peace process to end the “political crisis.”
“We are alarmed by the country’s political crisis that has developed into a civil conflict between the Federal government and the Tigray regional government, which is causing immense violence, internally displacement of persons and thousands of refugees,” Pax Christi International officials say in the statement obtained by ACI Africa.
They express their support for the November 4 statement of the Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia who urged parties in conflict “to resolve their differences amicably, in a spirit of respect, understanding and hope and pray for the people to live together in respect, consultation, and dialogue, and to work together for the prosperity of their common country.”
“In this spirit, a path of active nonviolence should be chosen which preserves human lives and fosters peaceful co-existence between different ethnic groups,” they say in their November 26 message.
Pax Christi International officials also express their support for the Bishops under the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) who, in their November 13 statement, called on the two parties “to stop using violence and engage in constructive and peaceful dialogue in mutual respect and trust.”
Cessation of hostilities and fostering of peace as the (AMECEA) Bishops have recommended “will not only benefit the people of Ethiopia but also the neighboring countries who are in danger of escalating violence as the conflict is spilling over,” the officials add in the statement dated November 23.
“Worryingly, this armed conflict exacerbates the pain and suffering, devastation and socioeconomic inequalities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, experienced not only by the people of Ethiopia but across the globe,” the officials of the 75-year-old peace movement note.
Allowing the armed conflict to continue means that “resources that should be channeled towards responses to the pandemic are instead being used for arms and weapons causing human losses and leading the people of Ethiopia into poverty,” they further say in the two-page statement.
Consequently, the officials of the Brussels-based Catholic entity call “for an ending of arms selling and arms trafficking to all parties involved in the conflict.”
They also want “the enforcement of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) continue to be the weapon of choice in this particular violent conflict and other conflicts on the Africa continent, causing millions of deaths and untold suffering to the people.”
The landlocked Horn of Africa nation has been experiencing clashes since November 4 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed-led government ordered a military offensive against the authorities in the Tigray region, which borders Eritrea.
The military offensive was in response to the alleged takeover of Ethiopia’s largest military base located in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle by forces loyal to the region’s government.
The military offensive is the culmination of escalating tensions between the authorities of the two regions that started in September when the ruling party in Tigray, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) organized elections in the region, against the advice of the Federal government that had postponed the polls scheduled for August due to COVID-19.
On Friday, November 27, Prime Minister Abiy who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize announced that he was launching the “final phase” of the military offensive in Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people.
The announcement comes after the November 25 expiry of a call to surrender that he had issued to the TPLF fighters, who have vowed to keep fighting. It also comes days after the leadership of the UN raised concerns over possible war crimes should Ethiopia attack Mekelle.
Amid the rising tensions, the leadership of Pax Christi International “calls upon both parties to stop the violence immediately and to take steps towards pursuing the implementation of a well-defined and all-inclusive peace process to a united and stable Ethiopia.”
They also want the parties in conflict “to work together with the international community, the United Nations, the African Union and fellow African countries and the European Union to initiate a peaceful dialogue which will lead to a ceasefire and a peace agreement.”
“We strongly believe that military actions will not lead to a just resolution of the conflict and can only lead to further escalation of violence, aggravating the suffering of the population,” the officials say and add, “We call upon all parties to commit decidedly and effectively to protect and assist civilians, especially the most vulnerable.”
The leadership of the 120-member movement working to establish peace, respect for human rights, and justice and reconciliation is pushing for “a comprehensive inclusive and nonviolent political process,” seen as “the only way to end this violent conflict.”
Amid looming humanitarian crisis, officials of the Catholic movement call for a ceasefire noting, “De-escalation of the violence will be a significant step to mitigating the internal displacement of persons and the refugee crisis that is now unfolding.”
According to reports, more than 40,000 refugees fleeing the conflict have crossed into Sudan, with the UN cautioning that the crisis could displace as many as nine million people.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa