December 1, 2022

Ethiopia peace talks set to begin in South Africa amid raging war and fears of ‘fresh atrocities’ in Tigray

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African Union-led peace talks between Tigrayan authorities and the Ethiopian government are set to begin in Pretoria, South Africa, amid fears of ‘fresh atrocities’ in Tigray as war continues to rage in northern Ethiopia.

The talks aim to bring to an end a catastrophic and deadly war that has left thousands of people dead, hundreds of thousands displaced and trapped millions more in a devastating siege in Tigray which has triggered international outrage.

The planned talks are taking place amid a surge of hostilities in recent weeks, and warnings from the international community and human rights organizations that things were getting worse and civilians are paying the price.

On Monday, Amnesty International warned that fears of ‘fresh atrocities’ are looming in Tigray as the conflict intensifies in northern Ethiopia. The organization called on all parties to protect civilians.

Even as talks are underway, Ethiopian and Eritrean forces took control of the town of Adwa on Saturday after Tigray forces suffered “major losses” and retreated, according to reports. Tigrayan forces have lost control of a string of towns in recent days, as Eritrean an Ethiopian armies join forces against the TPLF, attacking them from all sides.

On Tuesday last week, Ethiopian federal forces captured the town of Shire, home to a camp for internationally displaced people, and vowed to capture Tigray’s airport.

Both the Ethiopian federal government and Tigrayan authorities have traveled to South Africa. Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a spokesman for Tigray announced on Twitter late Sunday that the Tigrayan delegation had arrived in South Africa for talks.

“Pressing: immediate cessation of hostilities, unfettered humanitarian access & withdrawal of Eritrean forces. There can’t be a military solution!” he wrote.

The Ethiopian federal government on Monday morning released a statement saying that its delegation had left for South Africa as well. “The government of Ethiopia views the talks as an opportunity to peacefully resolve the conflict,” the statement read.

The talks will be taking place as human rights organizations warn against civilian casualties and pains. Amnesty International noted that although the Ethiopian government, which announced on Tuesday last week that its army had captured the major town of Shire in northwestern Tigray, which hosts thousands of forcibly displaced Tigrayans, as well as Alamata and Korem in the south of the region, and that it was trying to minimize civilian casualties by avoiding urban fighting and instructing their forces to follow strict rules of engagement, reports received by the organization “however belie this claim.”

“Tigrayan civilians are afraid that the widespread abuses, such as unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic attacks, that were rampant when the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) and its allied forces were in control of these areas from November 2020 to June 2021, might happen again,” said Muleya Mwananyanda Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

In August and September, multiple air strikes in Mekelle and Adi Daero killed hundreds of civilians including children. Between September 6-12, 2022, the Eritrean army, which is allied with the ENDF, extrajudicially executed at least 40 people, including Eritrean refugees, in Sheraro town, noted Amnesty International.

“Military and civilian officials must recognize their duty to prevent and prosecute war crimes committed by their forces. Failure to do so implicates them in these crimes. We have already seen in this conflict that impunity for previous atrocities will only embolden security forces to commit more heinous crimes, the war crimes and crimes against humanity Amnesty International has documented should never be allowed to happen again,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.

Amnesty said that “Ethiopian authorities must suspend and remove from active duty all those, including in the Eritrean army and Amhara militia, implicated in human rights violations and war crimes and ensure that they are immediately investigated. Anyone against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence of responsibility for crimes should be prosecuted in fair trials.”

“Promises, short of concrete actions, will not protect civilians. We’ve already seen in this conflict that impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity and ethnic divisions fuel mass atrocities,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.

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