Ethiopian and Eritrean take Axum and Adwa, as forces advance on Tigray

By Fred Harter
Posted on Monday, 24 October 2022 12:27

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 6, 2022. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Negotiating teams from Ethiopia’s federal government and the country’s Tigray region will meet in South Africa today for peace talks convened by the African Union, as fighting continues to rage in the northern province.

In a statement Monday morning, the federal government’s communication service said its team of negotiators had departed for South Africa.

On Sunday night, senior Tigray official Kindeya Gebrehiwot confirmed that the Tigray authorities’ delegation had landed in South Africa for the talks.

The talks are being held as Ethiopia’s federal forces and allied Eritrean troops continue to advance in Tigray, after taking a string of strategic towns last week.

Control of Shire

On Tuesday, the government said it had taken control of the central urban hub of Shire in northwest Tigray, a city that houses hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by the fighting and the main distribution point for aid.

It also announced the capture of Korem and Alamata in southern Tigray, two weeks after Tigrayan forces announced their withdrawal from parts of the Amhara region.

In the last few days, Ethiopia and Eritrea’s militaries have also taken control of the cities of Axum and Adwa, humanitarian sources tell the Africa Report, the latest gains of a rapid eastward advance that will likely target Adigrat next.

“The Government of Ethiopia views the talks as an opportunity to peacefully resolve the conflict and consolidate the improvement of the situation on the ground brought about through the sacrifices of the ENDF,” said the government’s statement, using an acronym for the Ethiopian National Defence Force, the official name of its military.

The federal government has also pledged to resume aid distributions in areas of Tigray under its control, after the renewal of the war on 24 August halted the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the region.

As the fighting escalates, western and African diplomats have urged the parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire and voiced concern over reports of civilian casualties.

Gender violence

Last week, the Associated Press reported that dozens of women and girls have been raped in the town of Sheraro in north-western Tigray, which fell under the control of Eritrean and federal Ethiopian troops last month.

In a statement Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken commended South Africa for holding the AU-led talks, while also expressing concern over “reports of significant loss of life, destruction, indiscriminate bombardment, and human rights abuses” since the fighting renewed in Tigray and parts of the Amhara region two months ago.

Both the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council were briefed on the Tigray conflict on Friday, following comments by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who warned that the war in northern Ethiopia was “spiralling out of control”.

The Security Council’s three African members – Kenya, Gabon and Ghana – had requested Friday’s meeting and proposed a statement expressing concern over the escalating fighting, but it was blocked by China and Russia, according to diplomats.

Escalated violence

“In the past week alone, we’ve seen a serious uptick in fighting and violence,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council meeting. “The scale of the fighting and deaths rival what we’re seeing in Ukraine, and innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire.”

On Sunday, Pope Francis joined those calling for peace, telling a crowd in Rome’s St Peter’s Square that he hopes “the efforts of the parties who are involved in dialogue and the search for the common good lead to a concrete path of reconciliation.”

The AU-led peace talks were supposed to occur earlier this month but were postponed while logistical and technical issues were hammered out. Having made significant gains in the last week, the federal government is going into Monday’s negotiations with a considerable amount of leverage.

The federal government has said it is aiming to take control of Tigray’s airports and other federal institutions. The prime minister’s national security advisor said the government is seeking to disarm the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party leading the insurgency in Tigray.

Peace will prevail?

Speaking at the inauguration of a talent development centre in Ethiopia’s Oromia region on Thursday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the war “will end and peace will prevail”.

“The situation in northern Ethiopia will come to an end, peace will prevail. We will not continue fighting forever. I believe that in a short time, we will stand with our Tigrayan brothers for peace and development,” Abiy said.

A recent statement from the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank said “there is a serious risk of accelerating atrocities as the current phase of the conflict unfolds, with Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers targeting Tigray’s civilian population as they recapture locations vacated by Tigray forces and hostilities continue.”

In the past week alone, we’ve seen a serious uptick in fighting and violence.”

Will Davison, ICG’s Ethiopia analyst, says the talks due to take place in South Africa are “a positive development” but warns of potential obstacles to peace, as the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces try to build on their battlefield momentum by capturing more territory in the face of stiff resistance from the Tigray rebels.

“The first objective for mediators is to try and get the federal and Tigray delegations to agree to a truce despite the momentum towards continued military confrontation,” says Davison.

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