Ethiopia denies conflict negotiations after African Union appoints envoys

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© Reuters. An overview of Dansha Airport and destroyed buildings in Dansha, Ethiopia

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NAIROBI / ADDIS ABEBA (Reuters) – Ethiopia denied on Saturday that talks over the growing conflict in its northern Tigray region were imminent, just hours after three former African presidents were appointed to help mediate the two week old crisis.

Ethiopian troops are taking towns and advancing on Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, despite resistance from regional forces who have used bulldozers to plow the roads and are putting up resistance, the Addis Ababa government said Friday night.

Tigrayan forces were not immediately available for comment. They said on a broadcast Friday that they were making progress on the southern and northern fronts.

Claims by all parties have been difficult to verify as internet and telephone links to the region have been down since the conflict began on November 4.

A hint of the devastation can be seen in satellite images provided to Reuters by commercial space company Maxar Technologies (NYSE :). Destroyed buildings lined the main road to Dansha town, where the conflict erupted, according to the footage.

Hundreds if not 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 the neighboring nation of Eritrea.

The African Union announced on Friday evening the appointment of former Presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys.

<< La tâche principale des Envoyés spéciaux est de faire participer toutes les parties au conflit en vue de mettre fin aux hostilités, de créer les conditions d'un dialogue national inclusif pour résoudre toutes les questions qui ont conduit au conflit et de rétablir la paix et la stabilité en Éthiopie >>, The AU said in a statement.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly said it will not engage in talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which it sees as a renegade administration, highlighting what the government says is an attack surprise launched by the group against the federal troops in Dansha, causing the conflict.

“The news circulating that the envoys will travel to Ethiopia to mediate between the federal government and the criminal element of the TPLF is false,” tweeted a government task force on Tigray on Saturday morning.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Friday Ethiopia was not interested in external mediation.

“So far, the Ethiopian authorities have not accepted any form of external mediation,” he said.

The government appointed an alternative interim government to rule Tigray when troops take Mekelle. Its new leader gave an overview of the government’s strategy this week when he hinted at the pardon of the TPLF grassroots – the political party has not been banned – and a public relations campaign against the TPLF.

The TPLF is extremely popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018.

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