Ethiopia on Saturday rejected the African Union's offer for mediation in the Tigray crisis.
Hours after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU Chairperson, appointed three ex-presidents to mediate in the Tigray conflict, Ethiopia said the reporting on the mediation was fake news.
“PM Abiy Ahmed will be meeting the Chairperson’s special envoys to speak with them one on one,” said a statement posted on the Prime Minister’s official Twitter page on Saturday.
“News circulating that the envoys will be traveling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake.”
On Friday, President Ramaphosa appointed a team of ‘Distinguished Statespersons’ to help end the conflict that has raged for the last two weeks as Ethiopian forces battle the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
He appointed former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, Liberia’s ex-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe as AU’s special envoys to Ethiopia.
A statement from the Chairperson’s Office on Friday night indicated that the three leaders will try to have the TPLF and the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed discuss the issues rather than fight, as part of the AU’s initiative to ‘silence the guns.’
“The envoys will travel to Ethiopia with a view to helping to mediate between the parties to the conflict.
“The primary task of the Special envoys is to engage all sides to the conflict with a view to ending hostilities, creating conditions for an inclusive national dialogue to resolve all issues that led to the conflict, and restoring peace and stability in Ethiopia.”
But this offer was counter to what the Ethiopians have sought all week: a continental approval to crush the TPLF whom they accuse of violating constitutional order.
Ramaphosa announced the move after meeting with Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde who toured Pretoria as Premier Abiy’s Special envoy on Friday. Her message was to deliver an update on the operation in Tigray, she said.
“The federal government is engaged in a law and order enforcement operation and the perpetrators of these atrocities will be brought to justice. We understand the concern of our friends and partners, especially the AU, because Ethiopia is their home,” the Ethiopian president said on Saturday.
“I took note of the President’s (Ramaphosa’s) decision to send Special Envoys to meet our authorities. I also thanked the President for facilitating the AU led negotiations on the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam).”
The move for mediation came after Ethiopia sent envoys to countries in the region, asking for support against the TPLF. His envoys, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and National Security Advisor Gedu Andargachew toured Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo to defend the military onslaught and portray the TPLF as criminals who had escaped justice.
While all the leaders said the matter was largely an internal affair, they called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Ethiopia on November 4 launched a military offensive on the TPLF, once Ethiopia’s ruling party but now ruling the northern region of Tigray, after Dr Abiy accused the Front of attacking a camp run by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces.
While both sides have claimed victory in the battlefront, the fight has seen at least 40,000 people flee Tigray into neighbouring Sudan. Ethiopia said on Friday it had captured Axum, days after it said it had taken control of Shire, both in Tigray region. But the area has been under a communication blockade making it difficult to verify any claims.
Leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, Sudan and Djibouti have all called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but refrained from directly calling for dialogue. On Thursday, Tibor Nagy, the US Assistant Secretary for Africa, said the international community would push for peace rather than immediate dialogue given the strong stances by parties to the conflict.
“Our goal is a quick end to the conflict, restoration of peace, protection of civilians. At a point where mediation will become useful, i.e. that the two parties indicate an interest in mediation, you can bet that the United States would be there in an instant,” Nagy told journalists on Thursday.
“Anybody who has worked with these two sides I think can appreciate the fact that they have very, very strong opinions on what they want to do and when they want to do it. Mediation is not the goal. Resumption of peace is the goal.”