Ethiopia peace talks open in South Africa

5. Ethiopia
A tank of Tigray’s rebel forces stands abandoned at the side of a road in the Ethiopian city of Mehoni. (File photo: AFP)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Peace talks between the warring sides in the brutal two-year-old conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region opened in Pretoria on Tuesday, the South African presidency announced.اضافة اعلان

Led by the African Union (AU), the talks follow a fierce surge in fighting in recent weeks that has alarmed the international community and triggered fears for civilians caught in the crossfire.

They “have been convened to find a peaceful and sustainable solution to the devastating conflict,” Vincent Magwenya, spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, told reporters, adding that they would run until October 30.

South Africa hopes “the talks will proceed constructively and result in a successful outcome that leads to peace for all the people of our dear sister country,” he said.

The dialogue between negotiators from the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the regional authorities in war-stricken Tigray was launched almost two months to the day since fighting resumed in August, shattering a five-month truce.

They are being facilitated by AU Horn of Africa envoy and Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, supported by Kenya’s former leader Uhuru Kenyatta and South Africa’s ex-vice president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said Magwenya.

There was no immediate comment from the AU, the Ethiopian government, or the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) about the launch of the eagerly-expected process.

‘Peace will prevail’

Diplomatic pressure has ratcheted up in recent weeks to silence the guns in a war which has left millions in need of humanitarian aid and, according to a US estimate, as many as half a million dead.

The talks come as federal forces and their allies in the Eritrean army appear to be gaining the upper hand on the ground, seizing a string of towns in Tigray including the strategic city of Tigray in offensives that have sent civilians fleeing.

It is impossible to verify developments on the battleground as Tigray — a region of 6 million people — is largely cut off by a communications blackout and access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted.

An initial AU effort to bring the two sides to the negotiating table earlier this month failed, with diplomats suggesting logistical issues and a lack of preparedness were to blame.

The Pretoria dialogue represents the first publicly announced talks between the rivals, although a Western official has confirmed that previous secret contacts took place organized by the US in the Seychelles and twice in Djibouti.

Abiy first sent troops into Tigray in November 2020, promising a quick victory over the northern region’s dissident leaders, the TPLF, after what he said were attacks by the group on federal army camps.

The move followed long-running tensions with the TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition before Abiy came to power in 2018 and sidelined the party.

In a rare comment on the conflict last week, Abiy — who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his rapprochement with Eritrea — said the war “would end and peace will prevail”.

But on Monday, Tigray’s leader Debretsion Gebremichael issued a defiant statement saying: “The Tigray army has the capacity to defeat our enemies totally.”

‘Civilians are afraid’

The international community has been calling for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian access to Tigray and a withdrawal of Eritrean forces, whose return to the conflict has raised fears of renewed atrocities against civilians.

Amnesty International on Monday urged the rivals to protect civilians in the face of intensifying hostilities as government forces capture towns in Tigray.

“Tigrayan civilians are afraid that the widespread abuses, such as unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic attacks, that were rampant when the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and its allied forces were in control of these areas from November 2020 to June 2021, might happen again,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty’s director for East and Southern Africa.

The Amnesty statement charged that air strikes on Tigray’s capital Mekele and the town of Adi Daero in August and September had “killed hundreds of civilians including children.”

It also claimed — without giving sources — that the Eritrean army had in September “extrajudicially executed” at least 40 people, including Eritrean refugees, in the northwestern Tigrayan town of Sheraro.

Read more Region and World
Jordan News