Ethiopia’s government has vowed to seize control of airports and other federal facilities in the country’s Tigray region, a day after the African Union appealed for a ceasefire.
On Sunday, AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat called for an immediate and unconditional truce as combat has intensified in northern Ethiopia, where pro-government forces and rebels from the Tigray region have been fighting for nearly two years. Faki also urged the rivals to “recommit to dialogue” after both sides accepted an AU invitation to peace talks that failed to materialise as violence spiralled.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Tigray said they were “ready to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities” and called for international pressure to force the government to come to the negotiating table.
Long path to peace talks
In a statement released on Monday, Addis Ababa said it was “committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict through the AU-led peace talks”.
But it said it would pursue this along with “defensive measures” to protect Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from internal and external threats.
“It is thus imperative that the Government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities, and installations in the region,” the statement from the Government Communication Service said in a Tweet.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the United States and other Western powers have voiced alarm over the worsening violence in Tigray and have called for a peaceful settlement to “this catastrophic conflict“.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigrayan authorities were to attend AU-led negotiations in South Africa earlier this month but they did not go ahead, with logistical problems cited as one obstacle.
‘Loss of life intensifying’
Ethiopian forces along with troops from neighbouring Eritrea have meanwhile stepped up an offensive near Shire – a city of 100,000 people in north western Tigray – where civilian casualties have been reported following heavy shelling.
USAID chief Samantha Power warned on Sunday that “the risk of additional atrocities and loss of life is intensifying” around Shire, and accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of indiscriminate attacks.
This comes as an aid worker from the International Rescue Committee was among three civilians killed in an attack in Shire on Friday.
The IRC staffer was distributing food to “vulnerable” civilians including women and children, said the World Food Programme, which condemned the targeting of aid personnel.
Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 after accusing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front of attacking army camps.