Publishedduration10 minutes agoimage copyrightAFPimage captionThe conflict has so far killed hundreds and displaced thousands of people

The Ethiopian government will not talk with leaders of the northern Tigray region to end the conflict there, an aide to PM Abiy Ahmed has told the BBC.

"We don't negotiate with criminals… We bring them to justice, not to the negotiating table," said Mamo Mihretu.

African leaders have urged the government to meet Tigrayan leaders.

The conflict has reportedly killed hundreds and displaced thousands in recent weeks. The UN has warned it could trigger a humanitarian crisis.

On Friday, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as the African Union Chairperson, announced the appointment of three former presidents to lead talks to end the conflict.

But Ethiopia has rejected the offer, seeing its operation as an internal "law enforcement" mission.

Government forces seized key towns last week and say they are preparing for an assault on Tigray's capital Mekelle.

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The conflict is rooted in long-standing tension between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the powerful regional party, and Ethiopia's central government.

When Mr Abiy postponed a national election because of coronavirus in June, tensions escalated. The TPLF sees the central government as illegitimate, arguing that Mr Abiy no longer has a mandate.

On 4 October the Ethiopian prime minister announced an operation against the TPLF, accusing of attacking the army's northern command headquarters in Mekelle.

TPLF has rejected the claims.