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Thursday, 22 April 2021

Sudan PM says agrees regional meeting on Ethiopia conflict

Thousands have been killed since the start of the conflict in Tigray and just over 50,000 people have fled to neighbouring Sudan since Abiy ordered troops into the region

AFP , Sunday 13 Dec 2020
Abdalla Hamdok
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's new Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok, speaks during a Reuters interview in Khartoum, Sudan August 24, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
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Sudan's premier said Sunday he had agreed with his counterpart in Addis Ababa to hold an urgent meeting of a bloc of east African countries to resolve the crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region.

Asked for comment by AFP, the office of Ethiopia's prime minister did not immediately respond to Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok's announcement of an "emergency" meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Hamdok travelled to Addis Ababa on Sunday to discuss the Tigray conflict with his counterpart Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the first foreign leader to visit the Ethiopian capital since fighting broke out in the region on November 4, creating a humanitarian crisis.

"The visit led to fruitful negotiations and it was agreed to hold an emergency IGAD meeting," Hamdok's office said.

IGAD was founded in 1996 and brings together the east African nations of Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda.

Abiy, the winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, has resisted weeks of international pressure including from the US, United Nations and African Union to accept mediation.

Thousands have been killed since the start of the conflict in Tigray, according to the International Crisis Group, and just over 50,000 people have fled to neighbouring Sudan since Abiy ordered troops into the region to confront its dissident ruling party.

A Sudanese government official told AFP the meeting between Hamdok and Abiy had been "fruitful, especially on the emergency meeting of IGAD" and on reviving a committee to work on delineating their shared border.

Abiy said Hamdok expressed support during face-to-face talks for the offensive against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and his campaign to disarm and apprehend its leadership.

"The Sudanese side reiterated their solidarity with the government of Ethiopia in the law enforcement operations it has been undertaking," said a statement from Abiy's office.

Hamdok also recalled support Abiy had previously extended to Sudan, it added.

Refugee crisis
The Sudanese premier had urged Abiy to engage in negotiations with the TPLF when fighting broke out six weeks ago, and encouraged African mediation to resolve the conflict as it threatened to draw in the wider region.

On November 28, he declared the conflict over, saying the army had captured the regional capital Mekele. Abiy said Sunday on Twitter that he went to Mekele for the first time since federal forces claimed control of the city.

Abiy has dismissed reports of ongoing clashes as "sporadic gunfire" not indicating major combat. Over the weekend, AFP journalists saw trucks of soldiers heading towards Tigray, and ambulances remain a common sight in southern Tigray and northern Amhara regions.

Tens of thousands of refugees have crossed the border westward into one of the most impoverished regions of Sudan -- itself one of the world's poorest countries.

They have arrived in a country in the midst of a fragile political transition since last year's ouster of president Omar al-Bashir, along with an economic crisis that has been particularly harsh on the eastern states where Tigray refugees have arrived.

Around 170 refugees crossed into Sudan from Tigray on Saturday, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, compared to 1,100 on December 3.

Back to business
State media reported that the provisional administration appointed to oversee Tigray was urging civil servants and businesses to return to work on Monday.

The head of the administration, Mulu Nega, was also quoted Saturday by the state-run Ethiopian News Agency as saying that anyone in Tigray in possession of a weapon -- legal or illegal -- should turn it over to security forces by Tuesday.

In Mehoni, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Mekele, residents bristled at the idea of being ruled by an outsider handpicked by Addis Ababa.

"We don't want any other government. We want to be ruled by the TPLF," 30-year-old Asene Hailu told AFP.

Abiy's announcement of military action in Tigray marked a dramatic escalation of tensions between the prime minister and the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before anti-government protests swept Abiy to office in 2018.

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