The leader of Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region and the federal government have been invited to peace talks in South Africa this weekend as part of a pan-African effort to end one of the world’s most overlooked wars.
According to a letter from the African Union commission seen on Wednesday by The Associated Press, the talks would be facilitated by AU special envoy and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo with the support of former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
If Tigray People’s Liberation Front leader Debretsion Gebremichael attends the proposed talks between the Tigray and Ethiopian sides, it will be the highest-level effort yet to end the two-year war that has killed thousands of people from conflict and starvation.
Ethiopia’s government has accepted the invitation, national security adviser Redwan Hussein said. In a separate statement, the government called it “consistent with the Ethiopian government’s prior positions” that talks be mediated by the AU and be held without conditions.
The statement, however, does not give details about who might attend.
A diplomat in Addis Ababa told the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly, that the African Union was still waiting for a response from the Tigray side.
Getachew Reda, the spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, could not immediately be reached for comments.
The diplomat also told AP that representatives from the European Union, the United Nations and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development are expected to attend the talks as observers in support of the AU’s mediation team.
The letter from the chair of the AU Commission says the AU-convened talks would be “aimed at laying the foundation for a structured and sustained mediation” between the two sides towards a “durable resolution of the conflict”.
The talks come more than a month after fighting in Tigray renewed following months of relative calm. Forces from neighbouring Eritrea, allied with Ethiopia’s government, are again joining the fighting in what Tigrayan forces have described as a large-scale offensive.
The Tigray region has been largely cut off from the world since the war began in November 2020, with more than five million people without basic services including electricity, phone, internet and banking. Medicines have run desperately low.
On Thursday, the United Nations said trapped staffers were finally able to rotate out of the region for the first time since the fighting renewed.
The fighting also has spilled over into Ethiopia’s neighbouring regions of Amara and Afar as Tigray forces have tried to pressure the government, putting hundreds of thousands of other civilians at risk.
United Nations-based investigators have said all sides have committed abuses.