Ethiopian forces in Tigray say they are ready to enter the peace process
NAIROBI, Kenya — Tigray forces fighting Ethiopian troops say they are ready to respect an immediate cessation of hostilities and participate in an African Union-led peace process, a significant shift to which the Ethiopian government has yet to respond.
Conflict in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia has killed an estimated tens of thousands and left millions without basic services for more than a year after fighting erupted in late 2020.
The statement by Tigray authorities on Sunday evening came after renewed pressure from the United States and others following renewed fighting last month that shattered months of relative calm. Witnesses described heavy fighting along the region’s borders.
Tigray authorities had criticized AU mediation efforts under special envoy Olesegun Obasanjo. Their new statement makes it clear that they expect “mutually acceptable mediators” as well as international observers and experts to guide the process.
The Ethiopian government has said it is ready for talks anywhere, anytime and without preconditions. Tigray authorities had demanded, among other things, the resumption of basic services and the withdrawal of hostile forces from neighboring Eritrea.
The recent fighting has sparked new diplomatic activity behind the scenes. The United States played a leading role in mediating between the two sides, according to two diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa, who also said talks were expected in Djibouti. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The United States, AU, United Nations and European Union welcomed the Tigray authorities’ new statement, and the United States called on Eritrea and unnamed “others” to stop fueling the dispute.
The AU statement made particular reference to the “regional government of Tigray”, while the Ethiopian government last year labeled the Tigray authorities and their forces as a terrorist organization. The statement from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also referred to the regional government and said “this opportunity should be taken by all. Now.”
Ethiopian National Security Advisor Redwan Hussein did not comment on Tigray’s statement. Instead, he told The Associated Press that the UN-created International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia was no longer welcome in the country. “There is no point” for Ethiopia to cooperate with a “politically motivated” group seen as trying to demonize the government, he said.
The commission, which recently visited Ethiopia, issued a statement last week expressing concern over the resumption of fighting, saying that Eritrean forces are involved and that “the conflict risks spreading to other states. “.
The fighting has again interrupted humanitarian aid deliveries to Tigray, which had resumed in a limited way during the lull in fighting earlier this year. Aid deliveries have also been suspended in parts of the neighboring Amhara region affected by the fighting.
An aid worker told the AP on Friday that there had been heavy fighting on “seven or eight fronts” along Tigray’s borders. A second aid worker said Eritrean troops shelled the Tigrayan towns of Adigrat and Sheraro and launched attacks on Tigrayan forces’ positions in several places.
The second aid worker said several thousand people displaced by fighting around Sheraro arrived in Shire town last week. They also said a bridge linking Shire to the Amhara region had been destroyed. The bridge blew up last year and was later repaired.