Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed again ruled out dialogue with the leaders of the rebel Tigray region during a meeting with African Union special envoys on Friday.
Abiy told the envoys trying to end the conflict between Ethiopian troops and Tigray’s forces that he is willing to speak to representatives “operating legally” in the region, The Associated Press news agency reported on Friday.
The meeting came as people in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray state braced for what Addis Ababa termed as the final phase of the conflict which started on November 4th.
Abiy, who has resisted international mediation as “interference,” said he appreciated the AU envoys’ “elderly concern” but told them his government’s failure to enforce the rule of law in Tigray would `”nurture a culture of impunity with devastating cost to the survival of the country,” according to his office.
Abiy’s government and the regional one run by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front each consider the other illegitimate.
There was no immediate word from the three AU envoys, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano and former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe. AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo did not say whether they can meet with TPLF leaders, something Abiy’s office has rejected.
““Not possible,” senior Ethiopian official Redwan Hussein said in a message to the AP. “”Above all, TPLF leadership is still at large.” He called reports that the TPLF had appointed an envoy to discuss an immediate cease-fire with the international community “masquerading.”
Fighting reportedly remained well outside the Tigray capital of Mekele, a densely populated city of a half-million people who have been warned by the Ethiopian government that they will be shown “no mercy” if they don’t distance themselves from the region’s leaders.
Tigray has been almost entirely cut off from the outside world since Nov. 4, when Abiy announced a military offensive in response to a TPLF attack on a federal army base.
That makes it difficult to verify claims about the fighting, but humanitarians have said at least hundreds of people have been killed.
The fighting threatens to destabilize Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa.
With transport links cut, food and other supplies are running out in Tigray, home to 6 million people, and the United Nations has asked for immediate and unimpeded access for aid.
BY OSMAN HUSSEIN ALI