Some African and European nations are urging Ethiopia to allow mediation of a growing war in its northern region that has spilled into neighbouring Eritrea and rocked the wider Horn of Africa.
Hundreds have died, 25,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there have been reports of atrocities since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive on November 4 against Tigray’s rulers for defying his authority.
But Africa’s youngest leader, who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year, has so far resisted pressure for talks.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called for talks between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), after meeting with Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
According to a statement on the Facebook page of Museveni’s office, during talks with Mekonnen, “President Museveni advised that, immediate negotiations must come into place to see to it that the war is not prolonged as it might lead to massive loss of lives and dwindling of the economy”.
Museveni also said that “because Ethiopia was one of the oldest countries in Africa and had never been colonised, it had an image to keep since it represents the whole of Africa”.
Abiy’s government denied Uganda was shaping up as a mediator in the conflict.
“The claim of mediation in Uganda is NOT true,” Abiy’s special task force for Tigray tweeted.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo is travelling to Ethiopia to try and start negotiations, the AFP news agency reports.
Ex-President Obasanjo is “on his way to Addis Ababa for talks”, his spokesman Kehinde Akinyemi is quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
“He is going there for mediation,” he added, but did not give any more details.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta also added his voice to the international calls for a peaceful resolution to the fighting.
Mr Kenyatta “cautioned against a full-blown conflict in the country saying Kenya and Ethiopia have for long served as anchor states for regional peace and stability”, according to a statement from the president’s office.
He also urged the TPLF “to de-escalate the conflict” saying the crisis risks eroding gains made by Ethiopians in developing their country.
Similarly, Germany said the growing conflict was “cause for great concern”.
Speaking in Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Christofer Burger said that attempts by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front to “widen the conflict and draw in neighbouring countries” were a particular worry.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently spoke to his Ethiopian counterpart and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia about the crisis.
Germany has also increased its humanitarian aid to Ethiopia to help civilians in need of humanitarian assistance in the region.
Ethiopia’s government has been very firm that it is not interested in talking to the TPLF. It argues that the party, which is in power in Tigray, has resisted a peaceful resolution of the differences with the federal government over the past two years.
But it is coming under increasing pressure to find an alternative to fighting.