African Union invites Ethiopia's warring parties to peace talks

FILE PHOTO: A satellite image shows the mobilization of military forces in the town of Shiraro, Tigray region, Ethiopia, September 26, 2022. Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS.

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The African Union has invited Ethiopia's government and rival Tigray forces to peace talks in South Africa this weekend aimed at ending a two-year conflict, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

Three diplomatic sources speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the authenticity of the Oct. 1 letter, written by AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki to Debretsion Gebremichael, who leads Tigray's ruling political party.

The sources said an identical letter had been sent to the Ethiopian government, while two of them said neither side had yet confirmed its participation.

Ethiopia's government and the leaders of the northern Tigray region have both said they are prepared to participate in AU-mediated talks to end fighting that has killed thousands of civilians and uprooted millions since November 2020.

But no formal talks have taken place, during a five-month ceasefire between March and August, and intense fighting has since resumed across Tigray.

Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Debretsion's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), said he was not aware of imminent talks.

There were no immediate responses to requests for comment from Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, the prime minister's national security adviser Redwan Hussein, and the prime minister's spokesperson Billene Seyoum.

Ebba Kalondo, the spokesperson for AU Commission Chair Faki's office, declined to confirm the authenticity of the letter.

The letter said Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union's High Representative for the Horn of Africa, would lead the negotiations with support from former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Tigrayan forces said last month they were ready for a ceasefire and would accept an AU-led peace process after previously raising objections to AU proposals.

Ethiopia's federal government said in June that the AU should facilitate the talks.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government accuses the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia's ruling coalition until Abiy came to power in 2018, of trying to reassert Tigrayan dominance over Ethiopia.

The TPLF accuses Abiy of over-centralising power and oppressing Tigrayans. Both dismiss each other's accusations.

(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Aaron Ross, Clarence Fernandez and John Stonestreet)

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