Ethiopian and Eritrean forces took control of the historic town of Adwa in the embattled Tigray region, a humanitarian worker said Sunday, ahead of the start of anticipated peace talks between the warring parties.
Ethiopian and Eritrean military units captured Adwa Saturday as Tigray forces retreated from the town after suffering “major losses," the aid worker told The Associated Press. An airstrike hit Adwa Friday, causing an unspecified number of civilian casualties, according to the worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.
Losing Adwa is the latest setback for Tigray's fugitive leaders, who have lost control of a string of towns in recent days. Ethiopia's federal government said Tuesday it had captured the major town of Shire, home to a camp for internally displaced people, and vowed to take control of Tigray’s airports.
Eritrean troops are fighting on the side of Ethiopia’s federal army in the Tigray conflict.
South Africa is set to host peace talks, convened by the African Union, that one Ethiopian government official had said would begin Oct. 24. But the African Union itself has not released details about plans for the talks, if and when they start.
The talks were meant to begin earlier in October but were postponed because of logistical and technical issues.
Western diplomats and others have welcomed news of talks, urging the parties to agree to an immediate cease-fire.
Sunday, Pope Francis told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square that he was following “with trepidation the persistent situation of conflict" in the Horn of Africa nation.
“May the efforts of the parties who are involved in dialogue and the search for the common good lead to a concrete path of reconciliation," he said.
The U.N. Security Council discussed the conflict in Ethiopia at a closed meeting Friday but didn’t issue a statement because of divisions among its 15 members.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply concerned by reports of significant loss of life, destruction, indiscriminate bombardment and human rights abuses” since fighting reignited in the Tigray region in August.
Thousands of protesters gathered Saturday in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, for a government-sponsored rally to condemn perceived interference by outsiders in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.
A statement from the federal government’s communication service Sunday praised the protesters “who raised your voice for the sovereignty and honor of Ethiopia.”
The conflict, which began nearly two years ago, has spread into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara as Tigray’s leaders try to break the blockade of their region.