Ethiopia passes law to start national dialogue commission

Ethiopian lawmakers have approved a bill to establish a commission for national dialogue, amid international pressure for negotiations to end the 13-month conflict in the Tigray region.

The Federal Parliamentary Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor on Wednesday with 287 votes for, 13 votes against and one abstention.

“The commission’s establishment will pave the way for national consensus and keep the integrity of the country,” the bill states.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has promised to create such a commission to establish a common ground on contentious issues.

The commission, however, will not at this stage engage with the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front or the Oromo Liberation Army, both of which are fighting the federal army and have been declared terrorist organizations by the government of the East African nation.

Some government officials have said specifically that the new commission will not be engaging in talks with the Tigray organization.

But the commission’s creation may be an effort to respond to the international community’s persistent calls for a cease-fire and inclusive dialogue to resolve the conflict, said Tsedale Lemma, CEO of Jakenn Publishing, publisher of the prominent Addis Standard media outlet.

“When the international community requested holding inclusive dialogue to address Ethiopia’s deepening crisis, there is no ambiguity on the need for such dialogue to be truly inclusive by having various stakeholders, including armed groups, be a part of the process,” Tsedale told The Associated Press.

The government so far has a strict policy of no negotiations with the armed groups, she said.

“With this as a background, it’s safe to say that the National Dialogue Commission is just an extension of the government’s inadequate attempt at scratching the thick surface in Ethiopia’s otherwise multi-layered and complex political crisis,” she said.

The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia continues to urge its citizens wishing to leave the country to do so by taking commercial flights.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on the situation in Ethiopia, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Ned Price, said on Wednesday.

“They agreed on the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, an end to human rights abuses and violations, and a negotiated resolution to the conflict,” Price said.

But Ethiopian officials have continued to protest that the U.S. and other Western countries are interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

“These (Western) countries, especially the U.S., are supporting the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front in addition to putting various pressures on Ethiopia,” Zadig Abrha, an official within the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s office, said on Wednesday.