NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The leader of Tigray forces in Ethiopia has expressed the commitment to a “negotiated end” to the nine-month war that has killed thousands and left nearly half a million people facing famine, while the United Nations secretary-general on Thursday warned “there is no military solution.”
In a letter to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres, seen by The Associated Press ahead of Thursday’s U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis, Debretsion Gebremichael said the Tigray side requires an impartial mediator, among other conditions.
But he warned that the African Union, whose headquarters are in Ethiopia, “cannot provide any solution to the war” that the continental body “endorsed” early in the fighting. That complicates the AU initiative announced Thursday to appoint former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as its special representative to the Horn of Africa.
The prospect for talks between Ethiopia’s government and the Tigray leadership, who dominated the national government for 27 years before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office, remains deeply challenging. Ethiopia’s government earlier this year declared the Tigray People’s Liberation Front a terrorist group, and the United States told Thursday’s meeting that the government has “not responded positively” to calls for talks.
Meanwhile, the conflict has spread in recent weeks into Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions, displacing hundreds of thousands of people, while Abiy’s government has called all able citizens to war, urging them to stop the Tigray forces “once and for all.” The heated rhetoric on both sides has led to growing international calls for an immediate cease-fire.
The further the resurgent Tigray forces advance outside the Tigray region, “the greater the harm” to the ethnic Tigrayans for whom they act, Kenyan Ambassador Martin Kimani told the Security Council meeting, while urging Ethiopia to be prepared to lift the terror designation. He also encouraged the African Union to step up.
What began as a political falling-out now threatens to destabilize Africa’s second most populous country, while abuses have been committed by all sides in the mix of armed groups that include those from neighboring Eritrea.
The world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade continues to worsen.
Guterres at Thursday’s meeting criticized the “de facto humanitarian blockade” of the Tigray region of 6 million people, with food warehouses there now empty, and the United States warned that “if these impediments continue, large numbers of people will starve to death.”
“With sadness and disbelief, we are once again discussing the possibility of a manmade famine in Tigray,” Norway’s Deputy Ambassador Trine Heimerback said, referring to Ethiopia’s catastrophic starvation crisis in the 1980s.
“The aim is to exterminate Tigrayans by starving them to death,” Debretsion’s letter asserted.
Ethiopian Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie told the meeting that his country is improving the process for the delivery of aid. Ethiopia’s government has accused Tigray forces of looting and impeding the delivery of aid.
“The TPLF is standing between Ethiopia and peace,” he said, accusing it of being “bent on destabilizing” the country of 110 million people. “We are open to working with all well-intentioned partners,” he added.
The war that began in November has affected all Ethiopians and “has already drained over a billion dollars from the country’s coffers,” Guterres said.
But the Security Council appears largely powerless to take significant action on the crisis, as permanent member China expressed its opposition to external interference in Ethiopia’s affairs. Both China and Russia warned that sanctions by individual countries, as the U.S. imposed this week against the chief of staff of Eritrea’s defense forces, would only worsen the conflict.
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