The first formal peace talks aimed at ending two years of war between the Ethiopian army and forces from the country’s northern region of Tigray started in South Africa on Tuesday and will end on Sunday, the South African government said.
At stake is an opportunity to end a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions, and left hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine in Africa’s second most populous nation, destabilizing the wider Horn of Africa region.
The talks, mediated by the African Union, begin as the government has been making significant gains on the battlefield, capturing several large towns in Tigray over the past week.
The government offensive, conducted jointly with allied troops from neighboring Eritrea, has raised fears of further harm to civilians, leading African, U.S. and European leaders and Pope Francis to call for a ceasefire and urgent talks.
The African Union said its chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was “encouraged by the early demonstration of commitment to peace by the parties,” without elaborating.
South Africa “hopes the talks will proceed constructively and result in a successful outcome that leads to lasting peace for all the people of our dear sister country Ethiopia,” said Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa.