Kenya’s retired President Uhuru Kenyatta says he will skip the scheduled peace talks between the Ethiopian Government and rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), citing “conflicts in my schedule.”
Mr Kenyatta, who is President William Ruto’s Peace Envoy to the Horn and Great Lakes region, had been invited by the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat as part of a “troika of negotiators” to help the warring parties establish terms of their dialogue. The talks are scheduled for Sunday in South Africa.
But President Kenyatta on Friday wrote to the AU saying the dates are inconvenient, even though he did seek clarity on how the talks will be arranged in future.
“However, in the interim, and as you consider the possibility for another date for the peace talks, I would be grateful to receive further clarity on the structure and modalities of the talks, including but not limited to the rules of engagement for all the interlocutors invited,” Kenyatta said in a diplomatic note seen by The EastAfrican.
“This clarification would greatly help in preparations for my engagement and participation.”
Ethiopia on Wednesday said it had accepted an invitation to attend peace talks led by the African Union Special Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo, in South Africa.
Redwan Hussein, the National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said, “The GoE (Government of Ethiopia) has accepted this invitation which is in line with our principled position regarding the peaceful resolution of the conflict and the need to have talks without preconditions.”
The invitation letter from the African Union said Kenyatta and South Africa's former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka would serve as part of a trio of mediators known as the ‘Troika of negotiators’.
This would have been the first time Kenyatta would be engaged in regional matters after he was named peace envoy by his successor William Ruto.
But the letter said the parties had been invited to talks from “Sunday, 8 October 2022” to deliberate on “the guiding principles, agenda issues, modalities, format and timelines for the negotiated settlement…” October 8 will be Saturday, however, and the African Union did not immediately clarify whether this was a typo.
Kenyatta said the priority should be the “immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities.”
“The silencing of the guns is particularly important in order to avail the right conditions for the consultations and negotiations while alleviating human suffering and allowing continued access to humanitarian assistance,” he said.
The meeting is part of AU’s push to have parties choose dialogue.
The Ethiopian government has been fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) since November 2020 and accuses the rebel group of being terrorists. The parties have, however, faced pressure to hold talks, even though they resumed fighting three weeks ago.
Ebba Kalondo, the African Union Commission Spokesperson, declined to comment on the logistical arrangements behind the planned talks, but told The EastAfrican they were on track to hold face to face meetings.
“We will communicate details as and when appropriate in consultation with the parties,” she said.
TPLF said they were also ready to attend the meeting, pledging readiness to a peaceful negotiated cessation of hostilities. But they also made demands.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael said that “an auspicious start” to the talks must be preceded with clarification on whether there would be additional actors invited as participants, observers or guarantors and what roles the international community will play…and “the logistics, such as travel arrangements for our negotiating team.”