February 6, 2023

Blinken, Ruto, Greenfield focus on Ethiopia ahead of talks

Blinken, Ruto, Greenfield Focus On Ethiopia Ahead Of Talks

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on Sunday with Kenyan President William Ruto to discuss the lingering crisis in Ethiopia ahead of talks this week in South Africa.

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Kenyan President William Ruto regarding Kenya’s critical role in regional peace and security in Ethiopia and across East Africa,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Price added that Blinken also previewed plans for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December.

In New York City where the United Nations Security Council met on Friday to discuss the crisis in Ethiopia, the United States Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed disappointment that “the council did not agree on issuing a statement.”

“The Security Council just met to discuss the conflict in Ethiopia, in a closed meeting. And I want to take the opportunity to thank the A3 and the African Union for leading on this process, including the statement that was issued by the African Union today, and we were briefed by the African Union. It is disappointing that the council did not agree on issuing a statement, which is why it’s important for me to come out here today,” Thomas-Greenfield said at the UN Security Council stakeout following the meeting.

She added, “As the Secretary-General said this week, “The situation in Ethiopia is spiraling out of control. The social fabric is being ripped apart, and civilians are paying a horrific price.” In the past week alone, we’ve seen a serious uptick in fighting and violence. Thousands of Ethiopian, Eritrean TPLF forces are engaged in active combat. The scale of the fighting and deaths rival what we’re seeing in Ukraine, and innocent civilians are being caught in the crossfire. Over two years of conflict, as many as half a million – half a million – people have died, and the United States is deeply concerned about the potential for further mass atrocities. And we all should be.  

“We’re also horrified by the recent death of an aid worker from the International Rescue Committee and the injuries of others. We heard today that a total of 26 humanitarian workers had been killed over the course of the past two years – that’s approximately two per month. This tragedy underscores the serious dangers facing humanitarian workers in the region. And as I told the Security Council just now, it’s past time for all of the parties to lay down their weapons and return to peace. It is past time for a cessation of hostilities and for unhindered humanitarian access to all those in need. And it is past time for Eritrean Defense Forces to halt their joint military offensive and for Ethiopia to ask Eritrea to withdraw its soldiers from Northern Ethiopia.  

“We are pleased that the AU announced that peace talks will begin on Monday in South Africa. And we welcome the strong statement made by the AU Peace and Security Commission today. And we welcome the stated commitment by the Governments of Ethiopia and Tigray Regional Authorities to participate in these meetings. It is critical that all of the parties seize this opportunity and engage seriously in talks to bring an end to the fighting and the suffering of Ethiopian people. Once the fighting stops – and it must – warring parties must negotiate concrete modalities to prevent a return to conflict, including security arrangements, a pathway to broader political dialogue, and assurances of unhindered humanitarian access and restoration of services.  

“I can tell you that the United States is fully and actively engaged in diplomatic efforts at the highest levels of our government to support the African Union. The United States remains prepared to take appropriate measures against those who obstruct a resolution of this conflict, and we are determined to have those who commit human rights abuses held to account.  

“Let me be clear there is no military solution to this conflict. The only path forward is for the parties to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks, and we must prevent the region from spiraling further out of control. There is no time to waste.”

War rages ahead of talks

Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have taken control of the town of Adwa in Tigray ahead of planned talks in South Africa this week, a report said on Sunday.

The AP quoted an unnamed humanitarian worker as saying that Ethiopian and Eritrean military units captured Adwa on Saturday after Tigray forces suffered “major losses” and retreated.

The same worker added that an airstrike hit Adwa on Friday, leaving several civilians dead.

The AP noted that Tigrayan forces have lost control of a string of towns in recent days, as Eritrean an Ethiopian forces join forces against the TPLF.

On Tuesday, Ethiopian federal forces captured the town of Shire, home to a camp for internationally displaced people, and vowed to capture Tigray’s airport.

The development comes ahead of the October 24 planned peace talks in South Africa mediated by the African Union and several other respected African leaders.

Washington has been watching the developments closely. On Sunday, United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor about upcoming Ethiopian peace talks in South Africa.   

“The Secretary affirmed the robust cooperation between South Africa and the United States across areas of common interest following the productive September 16 meeting in Washington, D.C. between South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Biden,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

The planned launch of African Union-led peace talks this week between the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan regional authorities will be facilitated by AU High Representative and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as AU panel members Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.

The United States, the African Union, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the European Union as well as other international and regional bodies have been deeply involved in desperate attempts to restore peace to Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa after Nigeria and once the pride of the continent.

The United States has been very involved and the latest U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Michael Hammer has conducted open and secret meetings with all sides while the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has been trying to bring all parties to the table for talks on behalf of the African Union, the lead mediator.

For nearly two years, the war between the TPLF in the north and Ethiopian federal forces in the south as well Eritrean troops has raged, leaving thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Although President Biden has not been as directly involved as he has been on Russia’s attack on Ukraine, he has empowered his lieutenants to do the job. However, up until now, concrete results have been missing.

Yes, the phone calls, the secret meetings, the trips, the diplomatic moves have taken place, but the war has continued, the blockade has persisted and the Ethiopian people have remained divided.

In Washington, protests by supporters of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali of Ethiopia have protested at the White House many times, bringing out massive crowds to make clear that the TPLF were the aggressors, while supporters of the TPLF and the Tigrayan people have also protested across the American capital, most recently at the just concluded IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings. They have pointed to the airstrikes and the blockade by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments to present themselves as the victims.

The United States has been blamed by all sides, for either not doing enough to protect Tigrayans against the aggressors, or for appearing to support a minority in a country of more than 110 million people. The U.S. government has denied those allegations and said repeatedly that its only objective was to see peace return to Ethiopia. It has continued to encourage talks without preconditions.

On Friday, Jake Sullivan, the White House National Security Advisor, and assistant to President Joseph R. Biden Jr., called Kenya’s first-ever National Security Advisor Dr. Monica Juma to congratulate her, and both leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including the worsening crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“Mr. Sullivan and Dr. Juma discussed their shared concerns about the escalation of conflict in northern Ethiopia and the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis, which worsens each day,” the White House said in a readout on Friday night. “Mr. Sullivan urged that the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan regional authorities meeting in Pretoria, South Africa for talks next week agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities, unhindered access for humanitarian assistance, Eritrea’s withdrawal, and accountability for human rights violations.”

The White House added that Mr. Sullivan and Dr. Juma also expressed concern over the devastating Horn of Africa drought, under which Kenyans are suffering alongside their neighbors in Ethiopia and Somalia.  

The United States has provided more than $2 billion this fiscal year alone in response to the drought in the Horn of Africa, representing more than half of all humanitarian funding to the region.

“Mr. Sullivan and Dr. Juma reaffirmed the close partnership between the United States and Kenya, and pledged to deepen our cooperation on regional and global challenges,” the White House added.

Earlier on Friday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the United States welcomes the planned peace talks but also expressed concerns over the lingering war.

“We commend South Africa for hosting the talks and stand ready to support AU High Representative Olusegun Obasanjo and AU panel members Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Uhuru Kenyatta in facilitating an agreement that, as President Biden told the UN General Assembly in September, ends the fighting in Ethiopia and restores security for all its people. As a partner to the African Union, the United States is committed to continuing to actively participate in efforts to advance peace in northern Ethiopia,” Blinken said in a statement,

Blinken, however, added that the United States remains “deeply concerned by reports of significant loss of life, destruction, indiscriminate bombardment, and human rights abuses since the five-month humanitarian truce was broken on August 24.”

He said, “We are also alarmed by the risk of widespread atrocities. In advance of next week’s talks, we reiterate our call on the parties to immediately cease all hostilities and for the Ethiopian National Defense Force and Eritrean Defense Forces to immediately halt their joint military offensive and ensure civilians are protected. We also call on Eritrea to withdraw its forces from northern Ethiopia and for unimpeded humanitarian assistance to be resumed immediately to all those in need.”

On Thursday, Blinken spoke with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and both leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including the devastating crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

They called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access” and for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia where a humanitarian blockade is said to be affecting nearly six million people.

“Expressing his grave concern about the intensification of fighting in northern Ethiopia and the risk of mass atrocities, Secretary Blinken underscored the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, good faith engagement in the AU-led talks next week, and for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from northern Ethiopia,” the State Department said in a brief statement.

More broadly, Secretary Blinken and Secretary-General Guterres also emphasized the importance of safeguarding UN principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially in light of Russia’s illegal attempted annexation of Ukraine’s territory.  They also discussed the need for continued UN action to address the urgent security and humanitarian crises in Ukraine and in Haiti. 

The State Department added that Secretary Blinken reiterated the commitment of the United States to strengthening and modernizing the UN system to ensure the organization is equipped to address the world’s most pressing collective challenges, including global health, climate, and food security.

On Wednesday, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that time was running out to prevent genocide in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“There is a very narrow window now to prevent genocide in Tigray,” Dr. Ghebreyesus, who is from Tigray, said at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

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