The first formal peace talks between the warring factions in the brutal two-year conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region entered its second day on Wednesday in South Africa.
Led by the African Union (AU), the negotiations in Pretoria follow an increase in bitter fighting in recent weeks that has alarmed the international community and sparked fears among civilians caught in the crossfire.
The talks are taking place at the South African Foreign Ministry’s headquarters in Pretoria.
The African Union envoy to the Horn of Africa and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the main facilitator of the talks, was photographed entering the meeting venue on Wednesday morning.
Kenya’s ex-president Uhuru Kenyatta, who is part of the mediation team, was also seen entering the building.
South Africa’s ex-Vice President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and a US envoy, Mike Hammer, will also attend.
The talks opened on Monday and are due to run until Sunday, according to the South African Presidency.
So far, however, there has been a media blackout, with journalists being held outside the venue’s fence.
The dialogue between negotiators from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopian government and regional authorities in war-torn Tigray came almost two months to the day after fighting resumed, shattering a five-month truce.
The international community is calling for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian access to Tigray, where many are starving, and a withdrawal of Eritrean forces whose return to the conflict has raised fears of renewed atrocities against civilians.
“There is no military solution to this conflict and these talks represent the most promising avenue to achieve lasting peace and prosperity for all Ethiopians,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a late night statement welcoming the negotiations.
AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat welcomed the launch of the much-anticipated process.
He said he was “encouraged by the parties’ early demonstration of commitment to peace” and reiterated the AU’s continued support for a process “to silence the guns for a united, stable, peaceful and resilient Ethiopia.” .