Ethiopian Airlines resumes flights to Tigray’s capital

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopian Airlines on Wednesday resumed scheduled flights to Tigray’s capital, Mekele, as the result of a peace agreement signed between the federal government and Tigray officials in November.

The move came a day after a federal government delegation led by the speaker of Ethiopia’s parliament visited Mekele, paving the way for more engagement between the two sides that have fought a deadly war for two years in which hundreds of thousands of people have died.

“We are starting with a single flight per day for now, but we will increase it as telecom services are restored in the Tigray region,” Mesfin Tasew, the Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, told The Associated Press.

Mesfin said the resumption of flights by Africa’s largest airline to the region is expected to “enable families to reunite, facilitate the restoration of commercial activities, stimulate tourist flow and bring many more opportunities which will serve the society.”

The Tigray region had been largely cut off from the rest of the world during the two-year conflict, but communications are slowly resuming as phone lines start to be restored in parts of the region.

Ethiopia’s state-owned telecom provider, Ethio Telecom, also announced on Wednesday the resumption of its services to Mekele.

According to the Ethiopian prime minister’s office, 28 towns including Mekele now have access to telecom services.

“Almost the entire Tigray region has been connected to national power grid,” the PM’s office added in a statement Wednesday.

It also said that maintenance of some 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) of fiber optics line is underway with around 981 kilometers (610 miles) so far completed, and some 42 banks have reopened in the past few days across Tigray.

The peace agreement calls for the resumption of basic services in Tigray, the withdrawal of non-Ethiopian military forces from the region and the gradual disarmament of Tigray fighters.

Redwan Hussein, security advisor to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, tweeted on Tuesday that the handing over of heavy weapons by Tigray forces and the resumption of an Ethiopian army presence in Mekele in particular is “expected to be executed until Thursday as per the understanding we reached in Nairobi” on Dec. 22.

But the head of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, Debretsion Gebremichael, told reporters on Tuesday that the presence of forces from neighboring Eritrea is an issue putting a stain on the peace process.

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