U.S. Says Escalating Ethiopia Crisis Risks Talks’ Progress
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. special envoy to the Horn of Africa said the escalating conflict in Ethiopia is jeopardizing progress that has been made on bringing the two sides together to negotiate an end to the yearlong crisis.
“What I sense is a much greater willingness to how you would put together the pieces of a negotiating process,” Jeffrey Feltman said at a briefing in Washington on Tuesday. “What worries us is while there’s some nascent progress, it’s highly at risk of being outpaced by the military escalation on the two sides.”
Feltman traveled to Ethiopia this month to foster talks with officials including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after anti-government fighters including the Tigray Defense Forces captured several key towns en route to the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. The TDF began advancing again on the city about a week ago, he said.
“We are absolutely opposed to the TDF threatening Addis,” Feltman said in his first statement since returning from Ethiopia.
The conflict hasn’t slowed despite ongoing talks. Tigrayan forces are now about 220 kilometers (137 miles) from the capital, capturing the town of Shewa Robit on Saturday, according to residents. Tigrayan forces accused federal forces of targeting residential areas in Mekelle, a regional capital, with drone attacks over the weekend.
The U.S., U.K., France and other Western nations have urged their citizens to leave Ethiopia, and the United Nations is evacuating its staff.
The European Union has also warned about the risk of Ethiopia disintegrating unless the two sides agree to a cease-fire. African Union Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo is spearheading efforts to broker a cease-fire.
The yearlong war has killed thousands of people, displaced hundreds of thousands more and led the United Nations to warn that more than 400,000 people were at risk of starvation in what was one of the region’s fastest-growing economies. More than 1 million people are viewed as needing humanitarian aid.
Tensions exploded into conflict in November 2020 when Abiy ordered a military incursion into Tigray after Tigrayan forces attacked a military base. Abiy initially declared victory after taking over the region’s capital. The government offensive has since failed to defeat the rebels.
Ethiopia declared a nationwide state of emergency earlier in the month and called on citizens to pick up arms and join the fight. Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, vowed to march to the battlefront to lead the war. Thousands of Ethiopians have signed to join the military across the nations and tens of thousands showing support in demonstrations in several western cities.
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