US Ethiopia in ceasefire talks

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A US special envoy met Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister in a bid to revive ceasefire talks, as government gave permission for 369 aid trucks to enter famine-hit Tigray where fighting began a year ago.

Jeffrey Feltman and Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa, arrived in Ethiopia on Thursday.

The envoys want government and rebellious Tigrayan forces and their allies to declare an unconditional ceasefire and allow access for humanitarian aid to areas in northern Ethiopia affected by fighting.

Feltman later met deputy prime minister and foreign minister Demeke Mekonnen. “During discussions, Demeke disclosed humanitarian flights to Lalibela and Kombolcha are allowed and additionally 369 aid trucks are permitted to enter to Tigray,” the government communications service tweeted.

Tigrayan forces say they control Lalibela and Kombolcha in Amhara and moved into parts of Afar region. Widespread hunger is reported in both.

Around 400 000 people are believed to be living in famine conditions in Tigray, where the UN said it has been unable to deliver food for a month. Its report said most pregnant and nursing mothers there are acutely malnourished.

Government denies UN accusations it is operating a de facto blockade.

Leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) want Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to step down and humanitarian aid to enter Tigray. Government wants Tigrayan forces to withdraw from captured territory in neighbouring regions.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency as fighting spread further south towards the capital on 2 November.

The TPLF publicly speculates Tigrayan forces might march on Addis Ababa with intense fighting reported in their push east to capture the route linking landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti port.

Talks in Kenya between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Uhuru Kenyatta, focused on “how we marry different efforts” from the US, the AU and other mediators, a senior state department official told reporters.

Kenyatta, who was in Addis Ababa on Sunday, indicated that Abiy “is more willing than he has been in the past to take advantage of the diplomatic efforts,” the official said.

On Wednesday, Ethiopia’s state-appointed rights commission said some human rights were not being upheld during the emergency and thousands of people had been detained.

An inquiry board of seven parliamentarians will visit detainees, investigate whether their detentions were ethnically driven and make recommendations, chair Lemme Tessema told reporters on Thursday.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said six U.N. staff arrested since the state of emergency was declared had been released, while five U.N. staff and one dependent remain in detention. He said the last of more than 70 truck drivers contracted by the United Nations and detained by authorities were also released this week.