ROME — The day after Pope Francis appealed for political leaders in Ethiopia to “end the suffering of the defenseless population,” representatives of the Ethiopian government and of its rival Tigray forces announced they would meet in South Africa for peace talks originally scheduled for early October.
“I follow the persistent situation of conflict in Ethiopia with trepidation,” Pope Francis had told pilgrims joining him Oct. 23 for the midday recitation of the Angelus at the Vatican.
“Once again, I repeat with heartfelt concern that violence does not resolve discord, but only increases the tragic consequences,” the pope said. “I appeal to those who hold political responsibility to put an end to the suffering of the defenseless population and to find equitable solutions for lasting peace throughout the country.”
Pope Francis prayed that the efforts of those involved in the dialogue would lead to “a genuine path of reconciliation” and that everyone would offer their prayers, solidarity and humanitarian aid to “our Ethiopian brothers and sisters, who are so sorely tried.”
The Reuters news agency reported Oct. 24 that the Ethiopian government had issued a statement saying its delegation had left for South Africa to participate in the talks, which are being mediated by the African Union. Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a spokesman for the Tigray forces, had tweeted earlier in the day that the Tigray delegation had already arrived.
In the tweet, Gebrehiwot said the most pressing issues were “immediate cessation of hostilities, unfettered humanitarian access & withdrawal of Eritrean forces. There can’t be a military solution!”
The war in Tigray started when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali announced military action against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He had accused the rulers of the semi-autonomous region of attacking a national army base in Mekele, the capital. The rebels denied the allegations.
Fides, the news agency of the Dicastery for Evangelization reported Oct. 21 that the advance of Ethiopian troops, together with militias from the neighboring Amhara region and Eritrean forces in Tigray was continuing and, “from the few reports that have leaked out, it appears that 500,000 people have fled the northern cities, wandering in desperate conditions, without food, water, heading south.”
“It is difficult to calculate the number of dead since the beginning of this war; the hypothesis is that there could be hundreds of thousands among the civilian population,” Fides said.
The agency also reported that the Ethiopian federal army had begun to distribute the first humanitarian aid in the reconquered areas, but it appeared the distribution was “complicated by the mistrust of the local populations.”