Window of opportunity in Ethiopia

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The African Union and the United States see a small window of opportunity to end fighting in Ethiopia as the United Nations warns the risk spiralling into a widening civil war is “only too real.”

The AU envoy for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo were briefing the UN Security Council.

Speaking from Ethiopia, Obasanjo said by the end of the week “we hope to have a programme in hand indicating” how they can achieve humanitarian access and a withdrawal of troops that satisfies all the parties. The UN estimates 400000 people in northern Tigray live in famine-like conditions following a year of war.

“All these leaders, in Addis Ababa and the north, agree individually the differences between them are political and require a political solution through dialogue,” Obasanjo told the 15-member council, stressing: “The window of opportunity we have is very little and time is short.”

The US State Department said on Monday Washington believes there is a small window to work with the AU to progress on ending the conflict as US envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, returned to Addis Ababa.  

The AU on Monday held a closed-door meeting to discuss the crisis.

The conflict started in November 2020 when forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), seized military bases. In response, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent more troops to the northern region. Thousands were killed and more than two million fled their homes.

Ethiopia’s UN Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie Amde told the UN Security Council: “Our route to a dialogue and political solution will not be straightforward or easy.”

“For now we’re focused on halting TPLF and rescuing and reaching our public that suffered immensely,” he said.

‘TIME TO PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN’

The war intensified in recent weeks. Tigrayan forces and their allies threaten to march on Addis Ababa, while government declared a six-month state of emergency.

“It is time to put your weapons down,” US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said at the Security Council. “This war between angry, belligerent men – victimising women and children – has to stop.”

The TPLF dominated national politics for nearly three decades but lost influence when Abiy took office in 2018. The TPLF accused him of centralising power at the expense of regional states. Abiy denies this.

Obasanjo told the council he met with Abiy, the leader of Ethiopia’s Oromiya region and travelled to Mekelle to meet TPLF leaders. He plans to travel to Amhara and Afar, where the conflict spread from neighbouring Tigray.

DiCarlo said the conflict had reached “disastrous proportions” and incidents of hate speech and targeting of ethnic groups “increased at an alarming rate. She told the UN Security Council: “What is certain is the risk of Ethiopia descending into widening civil war is only too real.”

The Security Council last week called for an end to the fighting in Ethiopia and talks on a lasting ceasefire as the body expressed deep concern in a statement about expansion and intensification of military clashes.