Ethiopia’s unrest sucks neighbours in as Addis shuns talk on dialogue

Saturday August 07 2021
A youngster arranges food aid on a cart

A youngster arranges food aid on a cart during distribution by the Amhara government near the village of Baker, 50km southeast of Humera, in the Tigray, on July 29, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


Addis Ababa has rejected Sudan’s offer to mediate in its war with Tigrayan fighters citing a border tiff with the Khartoum administration. This, analysts say points to a sucking in of neighbouring countries into the Ethiopian internal war.

Billene Seyoum, the Spokesperson of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Sudan’s bid had been ‘’tarnished’’ by the latter’s deployment of troops to a disputed border area in Amhara region.

Addis’ rejection of the offer came on the same week reports emerged that Eritrean troops who had been ordered out of Tigray were returning to Ethiopia, armed with weapons they had amassed in an earlier battle with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF].

Ethiopia says Sudan’s military deployment in a border disputed area has lowered its credibility, confirming for the first time that Sudan’s other unresolved bilateral issues with Ethiopia could affect the search for peace in Tigray.

Initially, experts had delinked Sudan’s border squabble from the ongoing Nile dam dispute and the Tigray conflict as separate incidents. Sudan has received more than 900,000 refugees from Tigray region and aid organisations have been able to deliver aid from the Kassala region that borders Tigray.

“The relationship with Sudan at this point is a little bit tricky because [the] level of trust with some leaders has already be eroded particularly with the Sudanese army incursion into Ethiopian territory,” Billene told a press conference on Thursday.


“Trust is the basis of any negotiation, any mediation as well, so that element needs to be thoroughly addressed before Sudan could be entertained as a credible party in terms of facilitating such kind of negotiations,” she added.

Eritrea, the other country bordering Tigray region returned this week to guard its positions, weeks after officials announced they had left. The US government charged that the return of Eritrean troops, accused of atrocities earlier in the conflict, could harm any peace bids

Sudan, the current chair of regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development [Igad] had volunteered to kick-start mediation and persuade parties to a ceasefire. Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok had made the suggestion after speaking with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the Ethiopian conflict.

A dispatch from the US State Department said they had discussed “shared concerns over the expansion of armed confrontation in the Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia, the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Tigray region, and reports of Eritrean troops re-entering Ethiopia, all of which impact regional stability.”

“Secretary Blinken and PM Hamdok agreed to encourage all parties to enter negotiations toward a ceasefire, to engage in an inclusive political dialogue to preserve the unity and integrity of the Ethiopian state, and to allow full humanitarian access to those in need.”

Igad’s bid was Africa’s first effort at finding a solution to Ethiopia’s nine-months conflict, after Addis initially rejected a proposal from the African Union. A diplomat at Igad told The EastAfrican that the eight-member bloc will continue to call for cessation of hostilities as a first step.

“They cannot find a solution if they fight. We have always found a way out of these problems if we talk,” the official said. Hamdok had earlier received a delegation from Eritrea, led by Foreign minister Osman Saleh. “The two sides held frank and extensive discussions on bilateral ties as well as current regional developments,” said Yemane GebreMeskel, Eritrea’s Information minister.

The US which has been calling for ceasefire said this week there cannot be a military solution in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF] have been fighting Ethiopian forces and allies regional militia for the last nine months.

End of hostilities

“If aid is to reach people in need in Tigray, then all parties must end hostilities. There is no military solution to this conflict,” Samantha Power, the head of USAID said ahead of her trip to Addis.

Power could not meet Prime Minister Abiy, said to have travelled out of town, but which what has now been seen as Ethiopia’s protests at giving TPLF same wavelength to a legitimate government. In her press conference, Billene hinted to this, saying some world leaders were forcing Addis Ababa to grant courtesy to a “terrorist organisation.”

In Addis, Power met with Ethiopia's minister of peace, Muferihat Kemal, and Health minister Lia Tadesse, who handles one of the areas the US financial aids through its estimated $1 billion programmes a year. Washington said it will be sending $149 million worth of humanitarian support to Ethiopia.

Her visit to Ethiopia comes after warnings from the United states to take further punitive measures against the Ethiopian government if aid is being hindered from reaching the Tigray region.

Dina Mufti, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman said the push for cessation of hostilities should be on TPLF, once a ruling party but now considered terrorist group in Ethiopia.

“Ethiopia declared and stands by the unilateral ceasefire. The TPLF have not obeyed it. The international community must ask why,” he argued.

The conflict in Tigray which broke out in November last year has killed at least 10,000 people, seen more than 200 massacres and displaced more than two million people, according to UN figures. Eritrean forces who joined the war from as early as November were accused of some of the atrocities, but all parties have since faced the same accusation at different times. All deny any massacres.

Yemane said this week the desire to alleviate human suffering in Tigray was being used to cover an effort at “salvaging the TPLF,” an age-old enemy of Asmara.

The Ethiopian National Defence Forces launched attacks on TPLF, ostensibly as a law enforcement operation in November, after the former ruling party reportedly attacked a command of the national army. It has now morphed into a federal state warfare, involving various regional militia siding with the ENDF against the TPLF.