NAIROBI (Reuters) – Forces fighting Ethiopia’s military in the Tigray region laid out eight conditions on Friday for beginning peace talks, including the appointment of an international mediator and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – the former ruling party in the northern region – after regional forces attacked federal army bases in the region on Nov. 4.
Abiy declared victory less than a month later after the TPLF withdrew from the regional capital, Mekelle, and major towns, but low-level fighting continues. Some senior TPLF members remain at large, though the federal government has captured or killed a number of former officials.
TPLF spokeswoman Liya Kassa outlined the group’s preconditions for joining talks to end the conflict in a statement on the Facebook page of Dimtsi Weyane TV, a station owned by the former ruling party.
Abiy’s spokeswoman and the head of the government’s taskforce on Tigray did not respond to requests for comment.
During the height of the conflict in November, the government said it would not negotiate until its efforts to restore the rule of law were complete. After declaring victory later that month, it has said it is focused on apprehending senior TPLF members who remain at large.
Among the points made by the TPLF was a demand that Eritrea withdraw its forces from Tigray. Accusations of an Eritrean military presence are one of the most contentious issues in the conflict.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have both previously denied that Eritrean troops operated on Ethiopian territory. Dozens of eyewitnesses have said they have seen Eritrean troops.
The TPLF also called for the removal of the interim administration appointed by the federal government as fighting raged in November. It said the officials elected in September in a regional vote that Abiy’s government called illegal should be allowed to return.
In the region of more than five million people, thousands of people are believed to have died and 950,000 have fled their homes since fighting began.
Verifying details of the situation has been difficult because communications to Tigray remain difficult and the government tightly controls access.
(Reporting by Nairobi Newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry)