Peace talks to end Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict have begun in South Africa, a South African government spokesman said Tuesday. It is the highest-level effort yet to end two years of fighting that has killed perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.
The spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Vincent Magwenya, said the African Union-led talks that started Tuesday are expected to continue until Sunday. Delegations from the Ethiopian government and Tigray authorities arrived in South Africa this week.
“Such talks are in line with South Africa’s foreign policy objectives of a secure and conflict-free continent,” Magwenya said. Former Nigerian president and AU envoy Olesegun Obasanjo, former South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta are facilitating the talks with the encouragement of the United States.
The conflict has sharply changed the fortunes of Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who went to war with his country’s northern Tigray region less than a year after receiving the award for making peace with neighboring Eritrea.
The peace talks begin as Ethiopian and allied forces from Eritrea have taken over some urban areas in Tigray in the past few days.
The Tigray region of more than 5 million people is again cut off from the world by renewed fighting that began in late August following months of a lull in the conflict.
All combatants have committed abuses, according to United Nations human rights investigators who recently singled out the Ethiopian government as using “starvation of civilians” as a weapon of war. Babies in Tigray are dying in their first month of life at four times the rate before the war cut off access to most medical care, according to a yet-unpublished study shared by its authors with The Associated Press this month.
The war since exploding in November 2020 has spilled over into Ethiopia’s neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, putting hundreds of thousands of people there in peril.
Academics and health workers have estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by conflict and deprivation, and the U.S. has begun warning of a half-million casualties.