Ethiopia on Thursday outlined conditions for possible talks with rebels from the country's war-hit Tigray region, following days of frantic diplomatic efforts by international envoys to head off another surge in fighting.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has been locked in a year-long war with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which has pushed south in recent months and not ruled out a possible march on the capital Addis Ababa.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told reporters that one of the conditions for possible talks — which he stressed have not been agreed to — would be for the TPLF to withdraw from the Amhara and Afar regions bordering Tigray.
"In order for there to be a peaceful solution, they say it takes two to tango," Dina said.
"There are conditions: First, stop your attacks. Secondly, leave the areas you have entered [Amhara and Afar]. Third, recognize the legitimacy of this government," he said.
"By the way, don't misunderstand, it's not being said a decision has been made to enter into negotiations," he added.
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TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda told AFP at the weekend that pulling out from Amhara and Afar before talks begin is "an absolute non-starter."
The TPLF is demanding the end of what the U.N. describes as a de facto humanitarian blockade on Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be living in famine-like conditions.
International envoys have in recent days stepped up efforts to broker a cessation of hostilities.
Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, left Ethiopia on Wednesday following several days of meetings there and in neighboring Kenya, according to officials briefed on his movements.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, the AU's special envoy for the region, was due to leave Thursday after a final meeting with Abiy, the officials said.
He has also recently travelled to the Tigray capital Mekele to meet TPLF leaders.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Obasanjo on Wednesday and offered "strong support" for his mediation efforts, the State Department said.
He voiced hope that there was a "window" for progress.
Yet it is far from clear how major gaps between the two sides can be bridged.