The US says it is neutral to the conflict in Ethiopia, even as Washington and a number of Western countries ordered their nationals out of the Horn of Africa country over rising possibility of violence.
Jeffrey Feltman, the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, told a virtual press briefing that Washington will not take sides in the conflict but will push parties to find a solution to their problem through peaceful means.
Mr Feltman addressed journalists after returning from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Tuesday, where he said he had an audience with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as well as leader of the rebel group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who have been fighting the government since November last year.
“Our goal is to support diplomacy as the first, as the last, and as the only approach to address the underlying causes of this conflict. We are not taking sides here,” said Feltman, who has travelled to Ethiopia three times since taking the role earlier this year.
“Rumours that we are supporting one side are simply false. We have no intention of any engagement except diplomatic engagement on behalf of international efforts to promote a political process. Ethiopia’s neighbours, the African Union, the United Nations, and the international community all agree: There is no time to waste in pivoting to diplomacy.”
But Feltman did hint at difficulties of convincing parties to choose dialogue, claiming they both see a military victory within their sight. He spoke as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced he would go to the frontline, and reiterated his call for able-bodied and willing civilians to defend their country from the ‘criminal junta’ TPLF.
Feltman’s trips to Addis were punctuated with suspicions that the US was siding with the TPLF, who have since allied with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and announced plans to attack Addis Ababa. Several weeks earlier, a group of opposition groups from Ethiopia had also announced an alliance seeking to remove Abiy from government.
That announcement was made in Washington.
And President Joe Biden’s government has also sanctioned the Eritrean military for fighting alongside the Ethiopian forces in Tigray, where they were accused of atrocities. In fact, both sides have been accused of atrocities by various human rights groups.
On Wednesday, a number of Western countries continued to order their nationals to leave the country. The US, Germany and Ireland had earlier cautioned their citizens and asked them to leave Ethiopia over safety issues.
“There is some nascent progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiating process, but what concerns us is that this fragile progress risks being outpaced by the alarming developments on the ground that threaten Ethiopia’s overall stability and unity,” Feltman told the press briefing.
“Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy told me again on Sunday that his top priority is to get the Tigrayan Defence Forces and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the TDF and the TPLF, out of the lands that they have occupied in the states of Amhara and Afar and get them back into Tigray. We share that objective. The TDF and TPLF leaders that we have engaged tell us that their top priority is to break the de facto humanitarian siege that the Government of Ethiopia has imposed on Tigray since July. We share that objective as well.
“The basic point is that these two objectives are not mutually exclusive. With political will, one can achieve both. Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goal by military force, and each side seems to believe that it’s on the cusp of winning.
“The government must remove the shackles that are hindering humanitarian relief and stop offensive military actions, and the TDF must halt its advance on Addis.”