Ahmed Abiy recommits to peace talks, vows to seize federal sites in Tigray

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. PHOTO | AFP

Addis Ababa,

Ethiopia's government on Monday recommitted to peace talks over Tigray but did not address African Union appeals for a ceasefire, vowing instead to carry out "defensive measures" including seizing airports and other federal facilities in the region.

"These measures are necessitated not only by the repeated attacks of the TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front) but also by its active collusion with these hostile foreign powers," the Government Communication Service said in a statement, without naming those powers.

On Sunday, AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat called for an "immediate, unconditional ceasefire" as combat intensifies in war-torn Tigray, and for both sides in the nearly two-year war to "recommit to dialogue".

Authorities in Tigray said Sunday they were "ready to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities" and called on the international community to press the government to come to the table.

Addis Ababa said Monday it was "committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict through the AU-led peace talks."

But it said it would pursue this along with "defensive measures" to protect Ethiopia's sovereignty and territorial integrity from internal and external threats.

"It is thus imperative that the Government of Ethiopia assumes immediate control of all airports, other federal facilities, and installations in the region," the statement said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres, the United States and other Western powers have voiced alarm over the worsening violence in Tigray and called for a peaceful settlement to "this catastrophic conflict".

There is particular concern for Shire, a city of 100,000 people in northwest Tigray, where Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have launched a joint offensive and civilian casualties have been reported.

On Friday, an aid worker from the International Rescue Committee was among three civilians killed in an attack in Shire, where witnesses have reported heavy shelling in recent days.

The government said its army strives to "avoid combat operations within urban areas to prevent civilian casualties".

"The Government of Ethiopia deeply regrets any harm that might have been inflicted on civilians, including humanitarian personnel," the GCS said, adding it would investigate such incidents.