ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s prime minister on Friday reiterated that it would not sit down with Tigrayan rebel leaders in the country’s north for talks as fighting continues to rage for a third week.

Following a meeting with the African Union envoys to Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed said he would agree to dialogue between both sides’ envoys, but not with the leaders of the outlawed Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who have so far refused to surrender to government forces since clashes began earlier this month.

During the discussions, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed briefed the special envoys — former African leaders Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa — on the background to Ethiopia’s operations in the Tigray region, said a statement by the prime minister’s office.

“The Prime Minister discussed at length the patience with which his government handled the provocations and destabilization agenda the TPLF orchestrated for more than two years,” added the statement.

On Nov. 4, Ethiopia launched a massive “law enforcement operation” after TPLF forces stormed a military base, killing soldiers and looting military assets.

The operation reached what the government said was its third and last phase with the army encircling the Tigray region’s capital Mekele and making advances into the city after a 72-hour ultimatum for the TPLF to surrender expired on Thursday.

More than 41,000 Ethiopians already fled the military confrontations into neighboring Sudan, according to a UNHCR report that also said it expects the figure to rise to 200,000.

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