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Making peace: AU mediates Tigray talks in South Africa

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Picture: Amanuel Sileshi/AFP – People gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on October 22, 2022 during a demonstration in support of Ethiopia armed forces. Tigray’s rebel and Ethiopian delegations are engaging in peace talks in South Africa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has vowed fighting “will end and peace will prevail”, as diplomatic pressure mounts for a settlement to almost two years of bloodshed.

In early September, officials of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) indicated that they were prepared to take part in talks on bringing hostilities with the Ethiopia government to an end, with the mediation of the African Union.

Delegations of the Ethiopian government and rival Tigray forces have travelled to South Africa – which has offered a venue for the negotiations, mediated by the African Union – for the first formal peace talks since violence erupted two years ago.

The government of Ethiopia views the talks as an opportunity to bring the conflict to a peaceful resolution and consolidate the improvement of the situation on the ground brought about through the sacrifices of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF), according to a statement on Twitter from the government communication service of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE).

The FDRE says that the ENDF has continued securing major urban centres throughout the past few days, “debilitating” the military capabilities of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a spokesperson for the Tigray forces, said the Tigrayan delegation had already arrived, adding on Twitter that the focus of the talks would be an “immediate cessation of hostilities, unfettered humanitarian access, and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces”.

The Tigray delegation, which arrived on Sunday in a US military aircraft, is being led by one of its top generals, Tsadkan Gebretensae, and spokesman Getachew Reda, according to sources cited by Reuters.

The conflict first erupted in November 2020, when the TPLF, which led the country’s ruling coalition until Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018, rebelled. After a new government was formed by the country’s first Oromo leader (a Cushitic ethnic group mostly native to the Oromia region of Ethiopia), TPLF forces ambushed ENDF troops sent to the Tigray capital Mekelle to restore peace and order. The TPLF subsequently launched an offensive against Addis Ababa the next year, which was eventually repelled. Although a truce between the TPLF and ENDF was reached in March this year, it was ultimately violated by the rebels at the end of August.

The TPLF launched its attack on Amhara and Afar on 24 August, and a week later on 31 August, claiming that Eritrea had invaded Tigray “in four directions” in conjunction with an ENDF offensive. Eritrea also fought alongside Ethiopia in the first round of the war, from November 2020 until December 2021.

Nearly two years of conflict have resulted in a humanitarian crisis, which has been compounded by a devastating drought across much of the Horn of Africa. Around 10 million Ethiopians require food assistance, according to the United Nations, most of them in Tigray, Afar, and Somali states.

Picture: Lev Radin/Sipa USA – Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to reporters during a briefing on the situation in Ethiopia at UN Headquarters in New York on October 17, 2022. Secretary-General demanded immediate end of all armed hostilities in Ethiopia towards the region of Tigray.

The fact that the current round of talks is being held in South Africa is testimony to the country’s aspirations to project itself as a mediator on the continent. Pretoria has refused to succumb either to western pressure or the recent US “charm offensive” regarding its vision of the Ukrainian security crisis. Since Russia launched its special operation in Ukraine in February, Washington has tried to pressure other nations into condemning the operation and abiding by US sanctions against Moscow.

Picture: Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto – Demonstrators gather in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 18, 2022 to call for an end to what they say is US support for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and end US involvement in the ongoing conflict in Africa.

Several senior US diplomats have toured the African continent in recent months trying to woo countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to step abandon their neutrality. Nevertheless, South Africa, a longstanding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, has refused to budge. At an earlier stage in the Ukraine conflict, President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country had been approached to play a “mediation role”, based on its historic relations with the Russian Federation and as a member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

This article was first published on Sputnik International