Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Tuesday that the future status of disputed territory in the western part of the embattled Tigray region will be settled according to the country’s constitution after the signing of a truce earlier this month.
Western Tigray, also known as Wolkait, is part of Tigray under Ethiopia’s constitution. But it was occupied by forces from neighboring Amhara state when war broke out in November 2020 between the federal army and fighters loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF.
Wolkait's status is hotly contested, with many in Amhara asserting the area was taken from them during the 27 years when the TPLF helmed a governing coalition in Ethiopia.
Hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans were evicted from western Tigray during the Tigray conflict, leading to charges of “ethnic cleansing” from the U.S. State Department, and there have been massacres of both Tigrayans and Amharas in the region.
Abiy told lawmakers Tuesday that the future of the region will be resolved separately from the cease-fire deal struck in Pretoria.
“We went to South Africa not to decide to have Wolkait in Amhara or Tigray, the Pretoria (agreement) has not that power. … We agreed we should solve it based on Ethiopian law and system,” Abiy said.
He hinted that a referendum would be held to settle the matter after displaced people return to Wolkait. “People should be given the chance ... to get democratic opportunities,” he said. “Only through that we can get a solution.”
The cease-fire agreement reached in South Africa has been hailed as an opportunity to end the Tigray war, which U.S. diplomats say has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
On Saturday, military leaders from the warring sides signed an accord in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, to implement the truce.
It commits the parties to facilitate “unhindered” humanitarian access to Tigray after more than two years of aid restrictions. But aid is yet to reach the northern region of more than 5 million people in the aftermath of the agreement.
The Nairobi deal also contained provisions to carry out the disarming of Tigray forces.
The war has resulted in widespread damage to infrastructure, with Ethiopia’s finance minister estimating the country will need nearly $20 billion to rebuild.