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African envoys head for Ethiopia as ultimatum expires for assault

Around 42,000 refugees have fled over the border to Sudan.

African envoys went to Ethiopia to plead for peace on Wednesday, hours before an ultimatum was to expire for Tigrayan forces to surrender or face an assault on the northern region’s capital that rights groups fear could bring huge civilian casualties.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government set a 72-hour ultimatum on Sunday for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to lay down its arms or face an assault on Mekelle, the highland regional capital city of 500,000 people.

Abiy, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for ending a two-decade standoff with Eritrea, has said he will receive 5he envoys but not talk with TPLF heads until they are defeated or give up.

The 3 envoys – ex-presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa – were due in Ethiopia’s capital on Wednesday for meetings, diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Thousands of people are already believed to have died and there has been widespread destruction from aerial bombardment and ground fighting since the war began on Nov. 4. Around 42,000 refugees have fled over the border to Sudan. TPLF rockets have hit neighbouring Eritrea, Reuters reported.

Both sides have accused the other of ethnic-based killings, while denying responsibility for carrying them out.

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