The Ethiopian government will not speak with leaders in the northern Tigray region to end the conflict there, an aide to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the BBC.
“We are not negotiating with the criminals … We are bringing them to justice, not at the negotiating table,” Mamo Mihretu said.
African leaders urged the government to meet with Tigrayan leaders.
The conflict has reportedly killed hundreds and displaced thousands of people in recent weeks. The UN has warned it could trigger a humanitarian crisis.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as President of the African Union, on Friday announced the appointment of three former presidents to lead talks aimed at ending the conflict.
But Ethiopia rejected the offer, seeing its operation as an internal “law enforcement” mission.
Government forces seized key towns last week and said they were preparing for an assault on Tigray’s capital, Mekelle.
The TPLF is committed to defending the mountainous region. Its fighters, mostly from a paramilitary unit and a well-trained local militia, are said to number 250,000.
The conflict is rooted in long-standing tensions between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the powerful regional party, and the central Ethiopian government.
When Mr. Abiy postponed a national election due to the coronavirus in June, tensions escalated. The TPLF considers the central government to be illegitimate, arguing that Mr. Abiy no longer has a mandate.
On October 4, the Ethiopian prime minister announced an operation against the TPLF, accusing its forces of attacking the army’s northern command headquarters in Mekelle.
TPLF rejected the requests.
What else did Abiy’s aide say?
“Our African brothers and sisters would play a bigger role if they pressured the TPLF to surrender and for that, you know, no one needs to go to Tigray or Mekelle to make them understand this. period, ”Mamo said.
He said the former leaders of Mozambique, Liberia and South Africa – who are due to arrive in the country in the coming days – could not travel to Tigray due to the ongoing military operation.
Communication and transport services have been severely hampered since the fighting broke out.
Mamo added that the government was doing “everything possible” to allow United Nations agencies to provide assistance to the people of Tigray.
The military announced on Sunday that it planned to seize Mekelle.
“The following phases are the decisive part of the operation, which consists of surrounding Mekelle with the aid of tanks, ending the battle in the mountainous areas and advancing towards the fields,” said Colonel Dejene Tsegaye, porter. military word, to the Ethiopian broadcasting company.
“We want to send a message to the public in Mekelle to save themselves from any artillery attack and free themselves from the junta. After that, there will be no more pity,” he added.
How serious is the situation?
Aid agencies do not have access to the conflict zone, but fear that thousands of civilians have been killed since fighting broke out in early November.
At least 33,000 refugees have already entered Sudan. The UN refugee agency has said it is preparing to welcome up to 200,000 people over the next six months if the fighting continues.
On Friday, the TPLF was accused of firing rockets at the town of Bahir Dar in the neighboring Amhara region. The Amhara government said there were no injuries or damage.
But the incident reported to Amhara, who has a long-standing border dispute with Tigray, raised fears that the conflict could be extended into a larger war after regional forces were sent to support Federal troops.
Meanwhile, the UN has raised concerns about the influx of refugees into Sudan, which it says could destabilize a country that already supports around a million displaced people from other African countries.
Many of the refugees arriving in Sudan are believed to be children. Aid agencies say an immediate ceasefire would allow them to help thousands of civilians still trapped inside Ethiopia.
Aid agencies are appealing for $ 50million (£ 38million) for food and shelter for the new arrivals.
Five things about Tigray:
1. The kingdom of Axum was centered in the region. Described as one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world, it was once the most powerful state between the Roman and Persian empires.
2. The ruins of the city of Aksum are a United Nations World Heritage Site. The site, dating between the 1st and 13th centuries AD, features obelisks, castles, royal tombs, and a church which some say houses the Ark of the Covenant.
3. Most of the inhabitants of Tigray are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The region’s Christian roots date back 1,600 years.
4. The main language of the region is Tigrinya, a Semitic dialect with at least seven million speakers around the world.
5. Sesame is an important cash crop, exported to the United States, China and other countries.