US, South Africa offer safety guarantees as Ethiopia peace talks begin

Tuesday October 25 2022
Internally displaced Ethiopian women

Internally displaced women near a makeshift camp in Erebti, Ethiopia on June 9, 2022. The United States and South Africa have offered safety guarantees to delegations from the TPLF and the government of Ethiopia ahead of scheduled talks in Johannesburg. PHOTO | EDUARDO SOTERAS | AFP


The United States and South Africa have offered safety guarantees to delegations from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government of Ethiopia ahead of scheduled talks in Johannesburg .

Teams of negotiators from both sides arrived in South Africa for the African Union-led peace talks, their first pronounced physical meeting since the war began.

And it turned out the meeting is happening largely after the US and South Africa helped resolve safety concerns, an impending issue that forced the postponement of the talks earlier scheduled for October 9.

Representatives of both parties had confirmed sending their delegations to the venue of the talks in South Africa.

Prof Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a representative of Tigray External Affairs Office, announced that the TPLF delegation had arrived in South Africa.

Later on Monday, sources close to TPLF confirmed that their lead negotiators to the South African talks, Gen Tsadkan Gebretensae, and Getachew Reda had arrived in Johannesburg.


Flown on a US military plane

The EastAfrican has since learnt that the TPLF delegation was flown from Mekelle to South Africa on a US military plane that also carried US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer.

Mr Hammer will be an observer at the talks which are being mediated by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

"The delegation of the Ethiopian government has left for South Africa this morning," the Government Communication Service said in a statement issued on Monday.

"The government of Ethiopia views the talks as an opportunity to peacefully resolve the conflict and consolidate the improvement of the situation on the ground brought about through the sacrifices of the ENDF" it added.

Agenda not disclosed

The AU had by Monday evening not disclosed the agenda of the talks.

It is not also clear if the two sides had agreed on an agenda prior to sending their delegations to South Africa.

However, Prof Kindeya in his tweet said "Pressing: immediate cessation of hostilities, unfettered humanitarian access & withdrawal of Eritrean forces. There can't be a military solution!" 

The Ethiopian government in late June had named a seven-member "peace negotiation team" appointed by the federal government for talks with Tigray leaders.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Demeke Mekonnen is chairing the team. The team’s members are Minister for Justice Gedion Timothewos, Director-General of the National Intelligence and Security Service Temesgen Tiruneh, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Security Advisor Redwan Hussine, Chief of Military Intelligence office Lt-Gen  Berhanu Bekele, the coordinator of Prosperity Party's Democratic System Office Hassan Abdulkadir, and deputy president of Amhara regional state Getachew Jember,.

The TPLF delegation also includes seven members namely Mr Getachew Reda, General Tsadkan Gebretensae, Ambassador Wondimu Asamnew, Dr Fisseha Haftetsion, Mr Tewolde G/Tensay, Mr Kassa Gebreyonnes and Mr Assefa Abraha. A team of five security personnel is accompanying this delegation.

The African Union has been making repeated efforts for the warring sides to stop fighting and resolve their differences amicably.

End hostilities

Western powers have been pushing both warring sides to end hostilities and have also been trying to bring them to dialogue in a bid to find a political solution to the conflict.

Fighting resumed in late August, shattering a five-month truce, and has seen the return of the Eritrean army to the battlefield in support of Ethiopian forces and their regional allies.

Last week, the Ethiopian government vowed to take control of all airports and other federal sites in Tigray as Ethiopian and Eritrean troops seized towns in the war-torn region, sending civilians fleeing.

The dialogue will be the first official direct talks since conflict between Tigray defence forces and the federal government and allies broke out in November 2020.

The United States has expressed its hope that the peace in South Africa will stop the fighting in Ethiopia and restore stability for all citizens.

"The United States is fully and actively engaged in diplomatic efforts – at the highest levels of our government – to support the African Union and we remain prepared to take appropriate measures against those who obstruct a resolution of this conflict," the US Ambassador to UN Linda Thomas said in a tweet.