Foreign envoys eye 'small window' to end Ethiopia war

Foreign envoys eye 'small window' to end Ethiopia war
Foreign envoys are hoping an African Union-led push can bring about a cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia's year-long war as rebels threaten to take over the capital Addis Ababa
3 min read
09 November, 2021
The Ethiopian government has ordered the capital to prepare to defend itself against a rebel offensive [Getty]

Foreign envoys were scrambling on Tuesday to end Ethiopia's year-long war, hoping an African Union-led push can bring about a cessation of hostilities before a feared rebel march on the capital.

Jeffrey Feltman, US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, returned to Ethiopia for a late-night meeting with his AU counterpart, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, the State Department said.

"We believe there is a small window of opening to work with (Obasanjo)," spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday.

Last week Feltman met top Ethiopian officials before travelling to Kenya to see President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been closely involved in regional mediation efforts.

"We have engaged with the TPLF as well," Price said, referring to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group.

"We are engaging with the parties to try and put them on a path to a cessation of hostilities."

The UN has also tried to rally support for Obasanjo's initiative to end a conflict that has killed thousands of people, displaced two million and inflicted atrocities and starvation on civilians.

UN emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths on Tuesday called for peace following a weekend visit to Tigray's regional capital Mekele where he met with TPLF leaders.

"I implore all parties to heed the UN Secretary-General's appeal to immediately end hostilities without preconditions, and reiterate the (UN's) full support" for Obasanjo's efforts, he said.

Briefing the AU's 15-member security body on Monday, Obasanjo expressed optimism that progress was in the offing.

"All these leaders here in Addis Ababa and in the north agree individually that the differences opposing them are political and require political solution through dialogue," he said, according to a copy of his statement seen by AFP.

"This, therefore, constitutes a window of opportunity that we can collectively tap."

Rights group Human Rights Watch on Monday urged the AU and the UN to "move beyond discussions and act to avert further atrocities in Ethiopia".

"It's critical for African leaders and UN Security Council members to work together to take immediate action to avert further atrocities - or they will have failed the Ethiopian people," said HRW's executive director Kenneth Roth.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF, the former regional ruling party which dominated national politics before Abiy took over in 2018.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, promised a swift victory, but by June the TPLF had retaken most of Tigray before expanding into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.

The TPLF and its allies, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), have claimed several victories in recent weeks, taking towns about 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital, and they have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.

The government says the rebels are greatly exaggerating their gains but has declared a nationwide state of emergency and ordered the capital to prepare to defend itself.

Much of the conflict-affected zone is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify.

Nevertheless, a number of countries have urged their citizens to leave Ethiopia while commercial flights are still available.

The US embassy has ordered the departure of non-essential staff, while the UN has suspended non-essential missions to Addis Ababa.