An Ethiopian government delegation and rival Tigray forces were due to meet in South Africa for the first formal peace talks since war broke out two years ago.

Tigray forces

The talks will take place as Ethiopian forces and their allies make significant battlefield gains in the northern Tigray region, where they have captured several large towns in the past week.

The war is rooted in a power struggle between the federal government and Tigray authorities, who led the country's ruling coalition until Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018.

The conflict has killed thousands, displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine.

Ethiopia's government said in a statement its delegation had left for South Africa to participate in the talks, which are being mediated by the African Union.

"The Government of Ethiopia views the talks as an opportunity to peacefully resolve the conflict and consolidate the improvement of the situation on the ground," it said.

Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a spokesman for the Tigray forces, said the Tigrayan delegation had already arrived.

He said on Twitter the focus of the talks would be on immediate cessation of hostilities, unfettered humanitarian access, and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, who have fought alongside Ethiopian federal troops during the conflict.

The Tigray delegation is being led by one of its top generals, Tsadkan Gebretensae, and spokesman Getachew Reda, an official familiar with the talks told Reuters.

The delegation arrived on Sunday on a U.S. military aircraft, accompanied by the U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa, the official said.

Both sides had committed to the talks in South Africa earlier this month, but they were delayed for logistical reasons.