AU envoy warns Ethiopia talks will fail without ceasefire

Olusegun Obasanjo, who leads international pressure to end the brutal conflict, appeals to the warring sides to halt military operations.

Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, expressed hope that talks could end Ethiopia’s year-long war, but warned that “such talks cannot deliver without an immediate ceasefire”.

The former Nigerian president is leading an international push to end a brutal conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than two million, with hundreds of thousands facing famine-like conditions.

Besides Obasanjo, who left Ethiopia on Thursday after meeting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the leadership of the Tigre People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group, United States Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman also visited the country last week for talks. .

Meanwhile, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has also participated in regional mediation efforts, suddenly arrived in Ethiopia on a one-day visit on Sunday, with Abiy posting pictures of the pair on Twitter.

Obasanjo said in a statement that he is “optimistic that common ground can be secured towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict”.

But with fighting intensifying in recent weeks, he warned that “such talks cannot take place in an environment of military hostility”.

“Therefore, I urge the leadership of all sides to halt their military offensive. This will allow the dialogue to move forward.”

His remarks came ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to three African countries, who have backed Obasanjo’s efforts at mediation and threatened to impose sanctions on Abiy’s government and the TPLF unless they move forward on talks.

Ethiopia laid on Thursday Conditions For possible negotiations with the TPLF, including stopping attacks and withdrawal from the Amhara and Afar areas bordering the northern Tigre region.

“The conditions are: First, block your attacks. Second, leave the areas you’ve entered [Amhara and Afar], Third, recognize the legitimacy of this government,” Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti told reporters on Thursday.

But TPLF spokesman Getachev Reda has previously said the separation from Amhara and Afar is “a complete non-start” before talks begin. Tigrian forces said earlier this month they had seized Chemis, 325 km (200 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa, and threatened to march on it.

However, the government accused the TPLF of exaggerating its regional advantage and insisted that the conflict “is not coming to the capital”.

The TPLF is also calling for an end to what the United Nations described as a de facto humanitarian blockade on the Tigre, where hundreds of thousands are believed to be living in famine-like conditions.

Abiy sent troops to Tigre last November to topple the TPLF, a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

Although the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate promised a swift victory, by the end of June the TPLF had retaken most of the Tigre before expanding into Amhara and Afar.

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