Foreign envoys eye 'small window' to end Ethiopia war


A girl carries her belongings as she leaves the city following a huge battle going on between Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and pro-TPLF rebels, in Zarima, 140 kilometers from Gondar, Ethiopia, on September 16, 2021.  

Photo credit: Amanuel Sileshi | AFP

Foreign envoys scrambled on Tuesday to end Ethiopia's year-long war, hoping an African Union-led push can bring about a cessation of hostilities before a feared rebel march on the capital. 

Jeffrey Feltman, US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, returned to Ethiopia for a late-night meeting with his AU counterpart, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the State Department said.

"We believe there is a small window of opening to work with {Obasanjo}," spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday.

Last week Feltman met top Ethiopian officials before travelling to Kenya to see President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been closely involved in regional mediation efforts.

"We have engaged with the TPLF as well," Price said, referring to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group. 

"We are engaging with the parties to try and put them on a path to a cessation of hostilities."

The UN has also tried to rally support for Obasanjo's initiative to end a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced around two million, and inflicted atrocities and starvation on civilians.

On Tuesday UN emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths called for peace following a visit to Tigray's regional capital Mekele on Sunday during which he met with TPLF leaders.

"I implore all parties to heed the UN Secretary-General's appeal to immediately end hostilities without preconditions, and reiterate the [UN's] full support" for Obasanjo's efforts, he said.

Briefing the AU's 15-member security body on Monday, Obasanjo expressed optimism progress was in the offing.

"All these leaders here in Addis Ababa and in the north agree individually that the differences opposing them are political and require political solution through dialogue," he said in a copy of his statement seen by AFP.

"This, therefore, constitutes a window of opportunity that we can collectively tap."

'Rebels greatly exaggerating' 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF, the former regional ruling party which dominated national politics before Abiy took over in 2018.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, promised a swift victory, but by June the TPLF had retaken most of Tigray.

The government says the rebels are greatly exaggerating their gains.

Nevertheless, a number of countries have urged their citizens to leave Ethiopia while commercial flights are still available.

The US embassy has ordered the departure of non-essential staff, while the UN has suspended non-essential missions to Addis Ababa.