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Tigrayan rebels accept ceasefire and say they're ready for peace talks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Civil war began in Ethiopia just days before U.S. elections, so back in November 2020. Since then, war has killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions more. Today, though, there is cause for optimism around ending that conflict. Rebels in Tigray in northern Ethiopia said they would be willing to observe an immediate ceasefire and take part in peace negotiations with the Ethiopian government. The White House is welcoming this announcement. Fighting had resumed in August after a previous five-month ceasefire. Let's bring in NPR's Eyder Peralta. Hey, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So give us just the briefest summary of, as I said, the two years this conflict has been going on. What's been happening?

PERALTA: Yeah, look. To simplify it, it began as a fight between Ethiopia's old government and its new one. And over the months, it pulled in neighboring Eritrea, as well as other armed groups in the country. It deteriorated into a full-blown conflict that has been called a dirty war. We've seen rape used as a weapon of war. We've seen all manner of attacks against civilians by all sides. And we've also seen the government blockade a whole region controlled by rebels, and that has left millions of civilians on the verge of famine. In March, the government declared a ceasefire. The fighting mostly stopped. Some humanitarian aid started flowing into rebel territory, and both sides took steps toward peace talks. But last month, both sides accused each other of breaking the ceasefire. And we're back to an all-out war in Ethiopia. I think it's worth underlining that this is already one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. And this new fighting doesn't make it any better.

KELLY: So new fighting, but the main rebel group says, again, we're willing to talk. How good news is that?

PERALTA: It's good news, but we should be cautious. First of all, because we haven't heard any reaction from the government. And then when you read this statement closely, the rebels say they are open to an African Union-led dialogue but not necessarily to one led by the former Nigerian president, who is the AU's chief negotiator. That has been a sticking point before, and it's likely to be one again. And this is also a conflict with a lot of moving parts. At this point, there are rebellions across the country. The Oromo Liberation Army is fighting the government just outside the capital city, Addis Ababa. And there are also huge questions about language, about culture, about land that underpin this war that still need to be debated.

KELLY: So in the minute or so that we have left, it sounds like this is a piece of good news, but it's going to be a long way from that to a durable peace in Ethiopia.

PERALTA: Yeah. Right before this round of violence started, I sat down with Mohammed Dreyer (ph). He is one of the people tasked with the government to start a national dialogue. And I asked him, how does he not despair? Because in all honesty, his job to end this civil war through dialogue seems hopeless. Let's listen to what he told me.

MOHAMMED DREYER: This is the moment we have to look into our pasts to reconcile, to forgive each other. There is no other choice. This is the only solution to catapult ourselves from the quagmire where we are.

PERALTA: He says Ethiopians are tired of war and everyone just needs to talk.

KELLY: Right. NPR's Eyder Peralta, thank you for talking with us today.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.