NAIROBI (Reuters) -African Union-led peace talks proposed for this weekend to try to end a two-year-old conflict in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region have been delayed for logistical reasons, Tigray forces and two diplomatic sources said on Friday.
Ethiopia’s government and Tigray forces said on Wednesday that they accepted the AU’s invitation to talks in South Africa, which would be the first formal negotiations between the two sides since war broke out in November 2020.
The conflict in Africa’s second most populous nation pits the federal government against regional forces led by a party that used to dominate national politics. Thousands of civilians have been killed and millions uprooted by the violence.
At least five people were killed and 37 more wounded on Friday in an air strike about 30 km (18 miles) outside Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, said Kibrom Gebreselassie, the director of the hospital that received the victims.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, military spokesperson Colonel Getnet Adane and the prime minister’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the incident.
The diplomatic sources, who asked not to be named, said the postponement of this weekend’s talks was related to organising logistics and that a new date had not yet been scheduled.
Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for Tigray forces, said the AU did not consult Tigrayan leaders before sending out the invitations.
“You don’t just expect people to show up on a certain date as if this was some kind of get-together,” he said in a text message.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Ebba Kalondo, an AU spokesperson, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about this.
Despite the agreement to hold talks, various parties have voiced concerns.
Some activists from Amhara, a region bordering Tigray that has fought alongside the federal government in the war, oppose the talks.
“The current AU-led peace talks process excludes Amharas – the largest affected group in the war,” the Amhara Association of America, a lobby group, said in a statement.
Even in its letter accepting the AU invitation, the leader of Tigray forces suggested he had reservations, asking for clarification on who had been invited as participants, observers and guarantors.
“There are a number of issues that need to be resolved before (talks) occurs, and mediators will then face a major challenge … to get the two parties to commit to a new truce,” said William Davison, senior analyst for Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
Meanwhile, the government of neighbouring Eritrea, which has also fought alongside Ethiopia’s federal government in the war, has not been invited to the talks, the two diplomats said.
Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Nairobi Newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry, William Maclean and Toby Chopra)