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Ethiopian government agrees to participate in peace talks led by AU on 24 October

International calls for a halt to violence in Northern Ethiopia have mounted since an AU bid earlier this month failed to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table.

“AUC [African Union Commission] has informed us that the peace talks [are] set for 24 October 2022 to be held in South Africa. We have reconfirmed our commitment to participate,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s national security adviser Redwan Hussein said on Twitter.

When asked by AFP if they would attend the talks, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesman Getachew Reda said: “We have already announced that we will take part in an AU-led process.”

Earlier this month, the government and TPLF leaders agreed to join talks that were to be mediated by Olusegun Obasanjo (AU envoy), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (South Africa’s former deputy president) and Uhuru Kenyatta (former Kenyan president).

However, the meeting in South Africa never took place, with the blame placed on logistical problems. The fighting in Ethiopia has since spiralled.

This week, the government vowed to seize airports and other federal sites from rebel control as part of “defensive measures”.

Ethiopian forces and their Eritrean allies say they have captured a string of towns in the embattled region, which has been largely under rebel control since mid-2021.

Their advance has stoked fears for civilians, aid workers and displaced people caught in the crossfire.

‘Staggering’ toll

Witnesses had reported heavy shelling of civilian centres like Shire, a town where an International Rescue Committee aid worker was among three people killed last week before its capture by pro-government forces.

A humanitarian source said a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse storing non-food items and fuel had been looted in Shire, where there were also reports of civilians being abused.

Reports of widespread atrocities include massacres and rape.

“We hear about a lot of women having been raped,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for WFP said they were trying to verify reports that the warehouse had been looted.

In a telephone call with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for “good-faith engagement” by the two sides in the talks next week and for an end to hostilities.

Blinken voiced his “grave concern about the intensification of fighting in Northern Ethiopia and the risk of mass atrocities“, a statement said.

The UN warned this week that the situation in Tigray was spiralling out of control and inflicting an “utterly staggering” toll on civilians.

Tigray and its six million people are virtually cut off from the outside world, facing dire shortages of fuel, food and medicines and lacking basic services, including communications and electricity.

An estimated two million people have been driven from their homes in Northern Ethiopia and millions more are in need of aid, according to UN figures. Reports of widespread atrocities include massacres and rape.

The death toll remains unknown.

The conflict began on 4 November 2020 when Nobel Peace laureate Abiy sent troops into Tigray after accusing the TPLF of attacking federal army camps.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling political alliance for decades before Abiy took power in 2018 and sidelined the party.

(AFP)

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