ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ The government today conditionally welcomed a rebel-proposed cease-fire and transitional government.
In a long statement issued by the Council of State, the government said it was possible to ″consider these and other issues″ if the rebels stop fighting and halt support for independence of the country’s northernmost province.
Tigrean rebels said Sunday they were ready to implement an immediate cease- fire if President Mengistu Haile Mariam’s government stepped down and was replaced by a broad-based interim government that would hold internationally supervised elections.
The Council of State said it would consider the proposals if the Tigreans halt their support of a separate insurgency seeking independence for the northernmost province, Eritrea, and ″refrain from destabilizing the territorial integrity of the country.″
A Western diplomat said the government seemed to be testing the water.
″It’s sniffing around like a dog to see if the rebels are serious about becoming engaged in discussion,″ he said on condition of anonymity. ″Their backs are against the wall. They’ve got to take advantage of anything that comes along.″
The government has held two rounds of inclusive talks with the Tigreans, both of which have faltered over the rebels’ demands for an interim government.
Since August, the TPLF, or Tigrean People’s Liberation Front, and its ally, the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, have captured a wide area of northern Ethiopia, including their home province, Tigre.
Tigre is the southern neighbor of Eritrea where the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front has been fighting for independence since 1961 in Africa’s longest war.
The Tigreans and Eritreans both long have demanded Mengistu’s ouster and regularly coordinate offensives.
The Tigreans, in their push south, have come to within 100 miles of the capital. The Eritreans, meanwhile, have seized all but Eritrea’s provincial capital, Asmara, including the nation’s only deep-water port, Massawa.