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Tigray’s rebels authorities agree to peace talks

Tigray’s rebel authorities said Friday they would attend talks next week aimed at ending war in Ethiopia, as Abiy Ahmed vowed fighting “will end and peace will prevail”.

The government has also said it would participate in negotiations in South Africa being organised by the African Union on Monday, as diplomatic pressure mounts for a settlement to nearly two years of bloodshed.

“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 join the table on October 24.

It comes ahead of a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday to discuss the spiralling crisis in Africa’s second-most populous country.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council also convened Friday and was briefed by its Horn of Africa envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, who is expected to mediate the talks.

International pressure for a ceasefire has grown since the AU failed earlier this month to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table, and fighting has intensified in embattled Tigray.

The government this week vowed to seize airports and other federal sites from rebel control as Ethiopian forces and their Eritrean allies seized a string of towns in Tigray, sending civilians fleeing.

Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who sent the 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,” he told an audience on Thursday at the opening of a civil project outside Addis Ababa.

“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.”

‘Great concern’

Fighting resumed in August, shattering a truce and halting aid into Tigray, a region of six million that lacks food, medicine and other life-saving essentials.

In recent weeks combat has intensified, spurring alarm for civilians and aid workers trapped in the warzone, and global calls for a ceasefire.

A humanitarian source told AFP on Friday that heavy fighting was underway between the cities of Shire and Axum in northern Tigray.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the UNSC and AU meetings “demonstrate the international community’s great concern about the situation” and the need for violence to stop.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, he also renewed calls for a resumption of humanitarian aid to Tigray, and the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia.

The closed-door meeting of the AU’s 15-member Peace and Security Council was the first since violence exploded again in August.

The continent-wide bloc was “widely perceived as responding inadequately to this situation” but had been trying to ensure talks got underway next week as planned, the AU-focused Amani Africa think tank said Friday in a briefing note.

The aborted talks earlier this month were to be mediated by Obasanjo and supported by South Africa’s former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.

Logistical problems were blamed for that meeting never taking place.

The conflict began nearly two years ago when Abiy accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s ruling party which resisted central authority, of attacking army camps.

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

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