US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to assume his responsibility and end violence in the country, at a time when battles continue on various fighting fronts in the north of the country between the Ethiopian army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, while American and African efforts continue to discuss ending the conflict that erupted about a year ago.
And Blinken told CNN that the war in the Tigray region had put Ethiopia on a path of destruction.
The US Secretary of State, during a visit to Kenya, on Wednesday, renewed Washington’s call for a ceasefire, after he had warned last week that Ethiopia was at risk of “internal collapse” in the absence of negotiations between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front to reach an agreement.
Obstruction of the Security Council’s statement
In the Security Council, diplomatic sources at the United Nations said that Russia and China blocked on Friday the issuance of a statement from the council calling for the immediate release of the United Nations staff detained in Ethiopia for more than a week.
The diplomatic sources at the United Nations confirmed that the delegations of Russia and China to the organization obstructed the issuance of a press statement from the Security Council regarding the detained UN staff.
Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General, said Friday that the situation of detainees in Ethiopia is volatile.
“The latest figures I have just received are that 5 UN staff members and two aides are in custody,” he added at a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York.
He confirmed that “6 employees were released on Thursday, and one of them was released on Friday. However, a United Nations employee and an assistant were arrested on Friday.”
In terms of peace efforts, the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, arrived Thursday and discussed with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen means of a ceasefire between government forces and the Tigray Front. Sources reported that the two sides agreed to allow food and medical aid to reach Tigray.
Mekonnen told Feltman that the government had already approved humanitarian flights to the ancient city of Lalibela in Amhara state still under rebel control, as well as flights to the commercially important city of Kombolcha.
Washington has been among the most vocal critics of the conflict in Africa’s second most populous country, which has killed thousands and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes amid widespread famine.
The US embassy has evacuated non-essential staff and urged US citizens to leave the country.
The African Union’s Special Envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is also in Addis Ababa continuing his mediation efforts.
Obasango twice went to the capital of the Tigray Mekele region, in an indication of progress after several statements in which the Tigray People’s Liberation Front rejected the mediation of the African Union, which is based in Addis Ababa, as being biased and supportive of Abi Ahmed’s government.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said Friday that Obasanjo had arrived in Tigray province to have “intense discussions” with the TPLF leadership. “We agreed to continue to be engaged in the pursuit of peace and stability in the country,” he added on Twitter.
The former Nigerian president warned Sunday that peace talks “cannot bear fruit” without an immediate halt to the fighting.
A diplomatic source revealed that the African and American envoys are seeking to hold a meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister to discuss an African-American roadmap to end the conflict.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia confirmed Friday that its airspace is safe after the United States issued a warning of potential dangers to civilian aircraft in Ethiopian airspace, due to the escalating military conflict in this African country.
The Federal Aviation Administration this week advised US airlines to exercise caution on flights to or near Ethiopia, where year-long battles are close to the Ethiopian capital.
In a statement, it said airlines “must exercise caution during flight operations due to the potential unintended risks to civil aviation over and near combat zones.” “Civilian aircraft may be directly or indirectly exposed to ground-based or surface-to-air fire,” she added.
But the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority rejected the US warning, describing it as “baseless and completely contradicting reality.” “The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority would like to declare that any flight in Ethiopian airspace including Addis Ababa International Airport is safe,” she said.
The Ethiopian government declared a nationwide state of emergency earlier this month, ordering Addis Ababa residents to prepare to defend their neighbourhoods, amid fears that the rebels could advance from the northern region of Tigray to the capital.
The fighting in Ethiopia began in November 2020, when the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent military forces to the Tigray region. Government forces were accused of besieging the region and preventing the flow of international aid.
In recent months, Tigray fighters have advanced into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar. Earlier this month, they formed an alliance with other rebel groups and threatened to advance to the capital, Addis Ababa.
Both sides were accused of atrocities during a year of fighting that killed thousands, displaced more than two million people, and left hundreds of thousands in famine-like conditions.
According to observers, the conflict has caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands, and the flight of more than 60,000 people to Sudan, while Khartoum says that their number has reached 71,488 people.