With Ethiopia on the brink of escalation, diplomacy is in doubt

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Alarm erupted on Tuesday due to an impending tank attack in Ethiopia against the capital of the defiant Tigray region, three weeks after the start of the war, warnings struck civilians.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s 72-hour ultimatum to leaders in the region on the handover ends on Wednesday. His soldier warned civilians that “there is no mercy” if they do not move away from leaders in time – which some human rights groups and diplomats say could violate international law.

“The extremely aggressive rhetoric on both sides in the fight for Mekele is dangerously provocative and threatens to put already vulnerable and terrified civilians in serious danger,” said UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. The claim that Tigray leaders hid among the civilians “then does not give the carte blanche of the Ethiopian state to respond by using artillery in densely populated areas”.

A year before he took power in Ethiopia and introduced reforms to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Abiy successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in conflict resolution. It is now sitting in Africa’s diplomatic capital, rejecting calls for dialogue.

Meanwhile, the strong voice of dialogue efforts, the U.S. is unresolved, as the Trump administration continues to focus on domestic politics after losing the November election – and after President Donald Trump angered Ethiopia with remarks on a separate issue this year.

The diplomatic vacuum brought Ethiopia, one of Africa’s most powerful and populous countries, which Amnesty International calls “on the brink of a deadly escalation” at the heart of Africa’s strategic horn.

With time ahead of the attack on Mekele and its population of about half a million, the UN Security Council is said to meet on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

But the efforts of the UN Secretary-General, the African Union, the European Union and others have been set aside. Due to an unusually public disagreement over the weekend, South AU President Cyril Ramaphosa, South African President, supported three high-level delegations in Ethiopia. This initiative was quickly praised by the UN leader for “efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict”. However, according to Ethiopia, the ambassadors are meeting Abiy and not the leaders of the Tigray.

“All possible scenarios will be put on the table so we can talk unless the gang is put on the table as a legitimate entity,” senior Ethiopian official Redwan Hussein told reporters on Monday. Abiy’s government insists the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front are criminals.

The heavily armed TPLF ruled the Ethiopian government for more than a quarter of a century, and after Abiy took office in 2018, he was overthrown and sought to centralize power in a country that has long ruled ethnically. The TPLF quit when Abiy disbanded the governing coalition and then angered the federal government by holding elections in September after the national elections were postponed by COVID-19. Abiy’s term has expired, TPLF argues.

Both sides consider the other to be illegal. Meanwhile, hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been killed, nearly 40,000 have fled to Sudan, and the United Nations says 2 million people are in urgent need of help in the sealed Tigray region as food and medical supplies run out.

With the outbreak of the crisis, some were frustrated when they listened to Africa’s top American diplomat, Tibor the Great, reiterating Washington’s view that the TPLF was intended to replace the faulty Abiy – and yet claim that the United States has little information inside the Tigray region. communication was largely interrupted.

The position of the United States differs significantly from other requests for priority dialogues, which urge both parties to avoid immediate escalation without being blamed.

“Mediation I think is very important to underline – it’s a tactic and it’s a way to get to the gate. It is not an end in itself. I mean, our goal is to end the conflict quickly, “Great told reporters late last week after admitting that U.S. diplomats would be asked about it” immediately. “

Michael Raynor, the U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, added that in his talks with Abiy and Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael, “both sides had a strong commitment to anticipating the military conflict.”

Alarmed, nearly 20 U.S. senators called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to tie up Aby directly before it was too late. “The country will once have an opportunity not to let it slip,” said another senator, Bob Menendez. Without swift action to promote dialogue, “I fear that a bloody and protracted conflict is inevitable.”

Cameron Hudson, former National Security Council director for African affairs and senior head of the Atlantic Council think tank, told the Associated Press that the United States had found the idea that mediation was not the goal of “flabbergasting”. “If you don’t move forward at all, you have to move step by step, moving forward. If mediation is a gradual step on the road to peace, that should be the main goal, ”he said.

There seems to be no “trust, but check the elements” in the U.S. position on the Ethiopian conflict, Hudson added.

“Africa has the largest drone base 500 miles from where the fighting will continue,” he said, referring to the U.S. military base in neighboring Djibouti. His use of al-Shabab extremists in Somalia “at this stage is not so intense that we can spare some of the theater’s tools to help us figure out what is happening in Tigray, unless we have decided … for ourselves. “

Hudson said the State Department appears to be trying to restore U.S. credibility to Abiy and regain some leverage after Trump did “significant damage” with a campaign to punish Ethiopia in a dispute with Egypt over the construction of a huge dam on the Blue. Nile. During a rare intervention on an African issue, Trump told the State Department to suspend millions of dollars in aid to Ethiopia and claimed that Egypt would “blow up” the dam.

There are now signs that others in the Trump administration are pushing for dialogue, and quickly. The National Security Council tweeted overnight, “The United States is calling for mediation in Ethiopia and supports the efforts led by Cyril Ramaphosa and the African Union to end this tragic conflict now.”

President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign minister, Antony Blinken, last week urged “the TPLF and Ethiopian authorities take urgent action to end the conflict.” His office said there were no comments available.

But where Ethiopia will be by the time Biden takes office in two months is unknown.