ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have taken control of the historic town of Adwa in the disputed Tigray region, a humanitarian worker said Sunday, ahead of expected peace talks between the warring parties to start.

Ethiopian and Eritrean military units captured Adwa on Saturday as Tigray forces withdrew from the city after suffering “great casualties,” the aid worker told The Associated Press. An airstrike hit Adwa on Friday, causing an unspecified number of civilian causes, according to the employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns.

The loss of Adwa is the latest blow to the fugitive leaders of Tigray, who have lost control of a string of towns in recent days. Ethiopia’s federal government said on Tuesday it had taken the large city of Shire, home to a displaced persons camp, and promised to take control of Tigray’s airports.

Eritrean troops fight alongside Ethiopia’s federal army in the Tigray conflict.

South Africa is organizing peace talks, convened by the African Union, which an Ethiopian government official had said would begin on October 24. But the African Union itself has not released details about plans for the talks, if or when they will start.

Talks were scheduled to start earlier in October, but were postponed due to logistical and technical issues.

Western diplomats and others have welcomed news of talks and are urging the parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire.

Pope Francis told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday that he was monitoring “with trepidation the ongoing conflict” in the Horn of Africa.

“May the efforts of the parties involved in the dialogue and the pursuit of the common good lead to a concrete path of reconciliation,” he said.

The UN Security Council discussed the conflict in Ethiopia in a closed meeting on Friday, but made no statement due to divisions among 15 members.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply concerned about reports of significant loss of life, destruction, indiscriminate bombing and human rights violations” since fighting in the Tigray region rekindled in August.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Saturday for a government-sponsored rally to condemn alleged outside interference in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

A statement from the federal government’s communications service on 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 to the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara as Tigray’s leaders attempt to break the blockade of their region.

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