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Addis - Mekele Peace Talks Continue Wednesday


FILE: Exterior of South Africa Department of International Relations and Cooperation (MFA), where the Ethiopia - Tigray peace talks are underway.

UPDATED TO INCLUDE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS: The talks opened on Monday and are due to run until Sunday, according the South African presidency. But there has so far been a media blackout with journalists kept outside the venue's perimeter fence.

The first formal peace talks between the warring sides in the brutal two-year conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region entered day two in South Africa on Wednesday.

The talks are being held at South Africa's foreign affairs ministry headquarters in Pretoria.

AU Horn of Africa envoy and Nigerian former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the talks' chief facilitator, was photographed entering the meeting venue on Wednesday morning.

AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat welcomed the launch of the eagerly-awaited process.

He said he was "encouraged by the early demonstration of commitment to peace by the parties" and reiterated the AU's continued support for a process "to silence the guns towards a united, stable, peaceful and resilient Ethiopia."

Kenya's ex-president Uhuru Kenyatta who is part of the mediating team, was also seen entering the building.

South Africa's ex-vice president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and a US envoy, Mike Hammer, are also participating.

The dialogue between the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the regional authorities in war-stricken Tigray has come almost two months to the day since fighting resumed, shattering a five-month truce.

The international community has been calling for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian access to Tigray where many face hunger, and a withdrawal of Eritrean forces, whose return to the conflict has raised fears of renewed atrocities against civilians.

"There is no military solution to this conflict, and these talks represent the most promising way to achieve lasting peace and prosperity for all Ethiopians," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement welcoming the negotiations.

Amnesty International called Wednesday for a probe into abuses saying every party [in the Ethiopia - Tigray conflict] has committed crimes against humanity.

"Documented violations of human rights violations... (include) rapes, sexual violence, (...) lootings, torture and extrajudicial killings," said Fisseha Tekle, an Amnesty specialist on Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"All the parties, Tigrayans, Amharas, Eritreans, have committed serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity," he told a Nairobi press conference.