Ethiopian rivals still talk about peace in South Africa

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Addis Ababa (AFP) – Talks between the Ethiopian government and rebel authorities in Tigray aimed at finding a peaceful solution to their devastating two-year conflict were continuing on Monday, a diplomat said.

African Union-led negotiations began last Tuesday in South Africa, the first formal dialogue to try to end a war that has killed several thousand people and sparked a desperate humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia.

South Africa initially said the talks held in Pretoria would continue until Sunday, but they remain shrouded in secrecy.

Ebba Kalondo, spokesman for AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, said in a message to AFP that “no deadline has been set for the talks”.

A diplomat familiar with the talks confirmed to AFP that the talks were continuing on Monday, without giving further details, adding: “They are very strict on confidentiality.”

A source close to the Tigrayan delegation in South Africa told AFP this weekend that the talks would probably continue until Tuesday.

Since the start of negotiations, intense fighting has continued unabated in Tigray, where government troops backed by the Eritrean army and regional forces have carried out artillery bombardments and airstrikes, capturing a series of towns in the rebels.

Diplomatic efforts to try to bring the government and rebels to the negotiating table accelerated after fighting resumed in late August, torpedoing a five-month truce that had allowed limited amounts of aid to Tigray.

Ethiopia Aude GENETAFP

The international community has expressed deep concern over the ongoing fighting and the human cost it has taken on civilians caught in the crossfire.

It calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access to Tigray where many face hunger, and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, whose return to the battlefield raises fears of further atrocities against civilians.

“Constrained” humanitarian response

The conflict erupted on November 4, 2020, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking camps in the region. federal army.

Since then, fighting in Africa’s second most populous country has driven more than two million people from their homes and, according to US estimates, has killed up to half a million.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a report released over the weekend that around 574,000 people had been displaced in Tigray as well as neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. since fighting resumed in late August.

“Insecurity and restrictions on the flow of aid continue to limit the humanitarian response in the three regions,” he said.

Tigray remains largely closed to the outside world, with no communications and shortages of food, fuel and medicine, while access to northern Ethiopia is restricted for journalists.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported Friday that malaria cases have increased by 80% in Tigray compared to a year ago.

And according to the United Nations World Food Programme, the rate of global acute malnutrition among children under five in Tigray is 29%.

African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, wearing a cap, leads the talks
African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, wearing a cap, leads the talks Phill Magakoe AFP/File

Last week, Amnesty International said all parties involved in the war had committed crimes against humanity.

“Documented human rights abuses… (include) rape, sexual violence… looting, torture and extrajudicial executions,” said Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty’s expert for Ethiopia and Eritrea, during a press conference in Nairobi.