US emissaries were on Friday pushing for a ceasefire in Ethiopia in the latest bid to have the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) engage in dialogue.
Sources told The EastAfrican that representatives of the two parties gathered in Djibouti for mediation by Washington’s envoys, even as both sides publicly traded accusations of starting the war.
The meeting, expected to continue throughout the weekend, aims to stop the violence, a source said, and “will seek a long-term dialogue between parties”.
However, this week, Eritrea, which had left the fighting following a ceasefire and after pressure from the West, appeared to be headed back to the war. It justified its participation by accusing the TPLF of plotting to topple the regime of President Isaias Afwerki in Asmara.
Yemane Gebremeskel, Eritrea’s Minister for Information, dismissed claims that his country had launched an offensive on the TPLF in Tigray but publicised a document allegedly leaked from the rebel group.
“TPLF stresses that its central objective remains toppling of Federal Government [of Ethiopia] through military means. [The] Agenda of destablisation includes “regime change” in Eritrea. “[That’s] Not exactly bombshell as this is well-known,” the document stated.
Dated August 2014 in the Ethiopian calendar (May 2022), the document is titled Tactics and Strategy for the Final Chapter. It adds that “peaceful resolution is not and has never been an option for Tigray”.
On Friday, TPLF termed the document as “amateurishly fake”, and meant to justify a false narrative by Eritrea to launch a war.
On Tuesday, Getachew Reda, a senior advisor to TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, said that Eritrean forces were taking up offensive positions inside Tigray.
“Our forces have for two weeks now been fighting Eritrean and Abiy Ahmed’s forces in the western front,” he said.
TPLF said on Thursday the ‘calculated risk’ of renewed invasion had, however, backfired.
“It is unravelling big time and proving more risk and less calculation,” said Kindeya Gebrehiwot, head of TPLF’s External Affairs Office, in a tweet.
The war resumed at the end of August, breaking a five-month ceasefire between Ethiopian forces and the TPLF. Both sides accuse each other of firing first. On Wednesday, the US upped the pressure on both sides to de-escalate, warning the fighting was jeopardising peace talks previously planned for September and mediated by the African Union.
“The United States calls on the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF to immediately halt military operations and redouble efforts to bring a permanent end to the conflict.,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We remain deeply concerned at the resumption of fighting and the lives that it puts at risk.”
Ethiopia, however, has also raised complaints about foreign support for TPLF with a finger pointing at neighbouring Sudan.
“Ethiopia’s sovereignty was blatantly violated by a foreign aircraft crossing its airspace to deliver weapons to the TPLF. This violation should have been condemned more vocally by all partners,” the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Earlier in August, Sudan had summoned Ethiopian Ambassador Yibeltal Aemero Alemu to raise concerns about Addis Ababa shooting down Khartoum’s military aircraft over claims it had delivered weapons to TPLF. Khartoum argued the aircraft was, in fact, brought down on Sudanese soil and accused Addis Ababa of violating its territorial integrity.
Ethiopian diplomats across the world have been urging the international community to criticise the TPLF as the main party stalling peace talks.
“Cash, fuel and aid trucks were all weaponised; repaired infrastructure was destroyed, line repairers were killed by TPLF. How will it be possible to resume public services in Tigray while there are no enabling circumstances in the area?” posed Ms Mulu Solomon, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Berlin.
“The government of Ethiopia doesn’t have any logical reason to start a war while it has been appealing to the IC and TPLF to sit down and sign a cessation of hostilities agreement to allow the provision of basic services and the flow of humanitarian aid,” added Mr Zenebe Kebede, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Switzerland.
The war resumed as more than seven million people face starvation in Tigray, Afar and parts of Amhara that have been affected by violence since the conflict began in November 2022. Last week, the UN humanitarian agencies said more than half of the population across the country need food but it was areas affected by violence that are most affected. Tigray region has been under restricted access for humanitarian aid since the war began, limiting the reach of food supplies.
The Ethiopian government forces last week resumed shelling the suspected TPLF camps and warned civilians to move way. Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs accused TPLF of violating truce meant to allow humanitarian aid.
“TPLF has been violating the spirit of the humanitarian truce through hostile rhetoric, recruiting child soldiers, and engaging in public mobilisation planning for yet another round of hostilities,” he said on Wednesday.