Click below and listen to this article
After two years of war that has left tens of thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, peace talks between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray authorities officially began in South Africa on Tuesday.
Vincent Magwenya, the spokesperson for president Cyril Ramaphosa, announced that the African Union-led talks that started on Tuesday are expected to continue until Sunday. “Such talks ate in line with Africa’s foreign policy objectives of a secure and conflict-free continent,” Magwenya said.
Negotiators from the Ethiopian federal government and Tigrayan authorities are all in South Africa, as well as the main mediators, AU High Representative and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as AU panel members Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.
In Washington, the White House on Monday called on Ethiopian and Tigrayan negotiators meeting in South Africa to take peace talks seriously to bring the nearly two-year long conflict to an immediate end, warning that those who continue to engage in human rights violations will be held accountable.
At a news conference in Washington D.C., White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre commended South Africa for hosting the peace talks and all parties for engaging in them.
She also commended the mediators, including AU High Representative and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as AU panel members Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.
She said, “As President Biden told the UN General assembly last month, a peace process is needed to end the fighting in Ethiopia and restore security for all its people.
“The United States has been intensely involved diplomatically in supporting the launch of this mediation effort. Our special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Mike Hammer, has been in the region the past several weeks and will be participating as well.
“After nearly two years of conflict, the crisis in northern Ethiopia is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. With humanitarian access largely blocked since August, emergency nutrition and health supplies have completely run out in many areas, and severely malnourished populations, particularly children under five, will start dying at alarming rates without immediate additional supply.
“There is no military solution to this conflict. We call on the government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan authorities to engage seriously in the AU-led talks to achieve an immediate suspension of hostilities, unhinged delivery of humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, prevention of further human rights abuses and atrocities, and Eritrea’s withdrawal from northern Ethiopia.
“The United States urges parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and prevent further human rights abuses. And as we have made clear directly to the relevant parties in recent days, those who commit atrocities will be held accountable.”
The African Union-led peace talks between Tigrayan authorities and the Ethiopian government are underway 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 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.