Ethiopia says ready for talks with Tigray forces ‘anytime’

July 28, 2022 GMT

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A senior Ethiopian official says the government is ready for talks with rival forces from the country’s northern Tigray region “anytime, anywhere” and without preconditions, in a notable break from the past.

The announcement on Thursday by Redwan Hussein, security adviser to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, came amid hopes for dialogue to resolve the East African nation’s deadly war that erupted in November 2020.

Redwan tweeted after meeting with special envoys from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, adding that the African Union continental body “leads the process and can solicit logistical support from any source.”

In June, after a cease-fire and the increasing delivery of desperately needed aid to long-blockaded Tigray, both sides in the conflict agreed to sit down for talks. Ethiopia’s federal government has assigned a team of seven negotiators led by the foreign minister, but Tigray leaders have said some preconditions should be met.

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On Tuesday, the president of Tigray’s regional government, Debretsion Gebremichael, said that “if the federal government was really ready to make peace, it would have resumed basic public services in the region,” referring to long-severed banking, electricity and telecom services.

Critics of the Tigray leaders have argued that they should be removed, and their forces disarmed, before talks begin. Others have said it would be illegal to enter talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front while it remains on the federal government’s list of designated terror groups.

Ethiopia’s government has been under international pressure to negotiate with Tigray leaders to end the war that is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people in the Tigray and neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.

Concerns remain that the conflict could flare up again amid friction between the rival sides over conditions for the talks.

“Their disagreement over whether African Union envoy (Olusegun) Obasanjo or a top Kenyan official will lead mediation efforts to end the civil war is a dangerous obstacle to negotiations beginning,” William Davison with the International Crisis Group tweeted on Thursday. “While the truce is holding, and there’s no reason to think renewed federal-Tigray conflict is imminent, this impasse raises the risks of that.”