Tigray's warring sides agree to talks after ceasefire breakdown

Negotiations in South Africa mediated by the African Union will begin next week

Medics attend the scene of an air strike in Mekelle, capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. AP
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Ethiopia's government and rebels in the northern Tigray region have agreed to attend peace talks next week to end a bloody two-year conflict.

The African Union will oversee the talks, which will take place in South Africa.

“Our delegation will attend,” Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a spokesman for the rebel authorities in Tigray, told AFP in a text message when asked if they would come to the table on October 24.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who sent his army into Tigray in November 2020 to oust the region's dissident authorities, said the war “would end and peace will prevail”.

“Ethiopia will be peaceful, we will not continue fighting indefinitely. I hope the day when we will stand with our Tigrayan brothers to work together for development is near,” he said.

The conflict began in November 2020 when Mr Abiy sent troops into the northern region after accusing the local ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacking federal army camps.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for decades before Mr Abiy took power in 2018 and sidelined the party.

A five-month ceasefire broke down in August, cutting off much needed aid flows for up to six million people.

The UN Security Council met on Friday in a closed-door session to discuss the situation in Ethiopia. The council, however, could not agree on issuing a statement.

US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said afterwards that she welcomed the peace talks that come after a “serious uptick” in fighting. She added that the US would take “appropriate” action against anyone trying to stop a resolution to the conflict.

“Thousands of Ethiopian, Eritrean and TPLF forces are engaged in active combat. The scale of the fighting and deaths rival what we're seeing in Ukraine, and innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

“Over two years of conflict, as many as half a million … people have died, and the United States is deeply concerned about the potential for further mass atrocities.”

She said it is “past time” for Eritrean defence forces to halt their joint military offensive and for Ethiopia to ask Eritrea to withdraw its soldiers from the country.

The Ethiopian government said it had captured three towns earlier this week — Shire, Korem and Alamata — with its Eritrean allies.

Claims made by both sides are hard to verify due to internet and service blackouts.

The government this week vowed to seize airports and other federal sites from rebel control, sparking alarm among civilians and aid workers trapped in the war zone and spurring international calls for a ceasefire.

News of talks will be cautiously welcomed by international actors, who have called for peace after fighting intensified. World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday that the world had a “very narrow window now to prevent genocide in Tigray”.

Updated: October 21, 2022, 7:05 PM