Ethiopia yesterday denied that talks on the growing conflict in its northern Tigray region were imminent, just hours after three African former presidents were named to help mediate the two-week-old crisis.
Ethiopian troops are taking towns and advancing on the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, despite resistance from regional forces who have used bulldozers to plough up roads and are putting up resistance, the Addis Ababa government said late on Friday.
Tigrayan forces were not immediately available for comment. They said in a broadcast on Friday that they were making progress on the southern and northern fronts.
Assertions on all sides have been difficult to verify because Internet and telephone links to the region have been down since the conflict broke out on Nov. 4.
The devastation can be seen in satellite images provided by commercial space company Maxar Technologies, which show destroyed buildings along the main road in the town of Dansha, where the conflict broke out.
Hundreds, possibly thousands of people have been killed, more than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, and Tigrayan forces have fired rockets at Ethiopia’s Amhara region and neighboring Eritrea.
The African Union late on Friday announced the appointment of former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys.
“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 to Ethiopia,” the union said in a statement.
The Ethiopian government has repeatedly said that it will not engage in talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which it regards as a renegade administration, pointing to what the government said was a surprise attack the group launched on federal troops in Dansha, sparking the conflict.
“News circulating that the envoys will be travelling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake,” a government taskforce on Tigray wrote on Twitter yesterday morning.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that Ethiopia was not interested in external mediation.
“Until now, there has not been acceptance by the Ethiopian authorities of any form of external mediation,” he said.
The government has appointed an interim government to run Tigray when troops take Mekelle.
Its new head gave a glimpse of government strategy this week when he hinted at forgiveness for TPLF rank and file — the political party has not been outlawed — and a public relations campaign against the TPLF.
The TPLF is extremely popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018.
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