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Ethiopia, Tigray rebels to begin peace talks in South Africa

October 24, 2022

Tigray rebels and the Ethiopian government have announced their arrival in South Africa for peace talks. It is the most serious effort to date to find a solution to the devastating conflict.

People sift through wreckage in the aftermath at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia last Wednesday
The start of peace talks Monday comes after an escalation in the violence in recent weeks in the northern Ethiopian region of TigrayImage: UGC/AP/picture alliance

Tigray rebels and Ethiopian government negotiators were due to hold African Union-supported peace talks in South Africa on Monday aimed at solving the catastrophic two year-long war in northern Ethiopia.

The talks came after an escalation in violence that has triggered levels of concern in the international community.

Addis Ababa said it would partake in the negotiations after coming under intense diplomatic pressure.

Millions of people in Ethiopia have required humanitarian assistance as a result of the brutality of the conflict.

'Situation in Ethiopia is spiraling out of control'

What do we know so far?

Tigrayan rebel spokesman Kindeya Gebrehiwot announced that his delegation arrived in South Africa Sunday on Twitter. 

"Pressing: immediate cessation of hostilities, unfettered humanitarian access & withdrawal of Eritrean forces," Gebrehiwot wrote, adding that "there can't be a military solution!" 

The Tigrayan delegation arrived by US military aircraft, accompanied by the US envoy to the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer.

Reuters news agency reported the Tigrayan delegation will be led by a top general, Tsadkan Gebretensae.

The Ethiopian government delegation reportedly departed for the talks.

The negotiations will be supported by a mediation team from the African Union comprised of Horn of Africa envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, the former deputy president of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Kenya's former president Uhuru Kenyatta.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre later said the ongoing conflict is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and all hostilities should immediately stop.

What is the current state of the conflict?

On Friday, the UN Security Council held a closed door meeting to discuss the war and the plight of civilians.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said after the Security Council met that the conflict remains active, with Ethiopians, Tigrayans and Eritreans all engaged in combat.

On Twitter, she wrote, "There is no military solution to the conflict in northern Ethiopia." 

In August, fighting resumed after a five-month truce with the Eritrean army reentered the fray to support Addis Ababa and other regional allies. Together, Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have made battlefield gains, seizing larger towns in the Tigray region and displacing civilians.

In the past week, Addis Ababa has threatened to seize airports and other national sites that are located in Tigray from the rebels.

Also in the last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a past recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has said the war "would end and peace will prevail."

"Ethiopia will be peaceful, we will not continue fighting indefinitely," he added.

How did the conflict begin?

In November 2020, Addis Ababa accused the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party in the region at odds with the federal government, of attacking army camps and ordered the army into the region.

For decades the TPLF had dominated in government circles until Abiy took power in 2018 and sought to marginalize their influence.

ar/es (AFP, Reuters)