US says sending envoy to Ethiopia condemns Eritrea’s return to war

US says sending envoy to Ethiopia condemns Eritrea’s return to war

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The United States on Friday sent an envoy to Ethiopia to seek an end to renewed fighting and condemned neighboring Eritrea for re-entering the conflict in the northern Tigray region.

Mike Hammer, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, will travel to Ethiopia this weekend and “transmit that all parties should halt military operations and engage in peace talks,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“We condemn Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict, the ongoing TPLF offensive outside of Tigray and the Ethiopian government’s airstrikes,” she told reporters, referring to the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Fighting in the northern region resumed last week after a five-month lull, daunting hopes of a peaceful resolution to the nearly two-year war and an end to a humanitarian crisis that has seen Tigray suffer from widespread hunger.

“There is no military solution to the conflict,” said Jean-Pierre.

“All parties should exercise restraint and we call for de-escalation from all actors, particularly to allow humanitarian assistance and essential services to resume for all parties in need.”

Hammer, a veteran US diplomat, took on the role in June and visited Ethiopia the following month to help kickstart peace talks that never got started due to disputes between the government and the TPLF even during the ceasefire.

The two sides have exchanged blame for starting recent hostilities.

The TPLF, once Ethiopia’s dominant force, said historic rival Eritrea had re-deployed troops as part of a major offensive involving Ethiopian troops.

Eritrea, one of the world’s most cohesive nations with one of its most authoritarian governments, has been accused of heinous violence in the conflict.

Amnesty International said Eritrean forces massacred hundreds of civilians in the ancient city of Axum early in the conflict in November 2020.

After months of denials that Eritrean troops had crossed the border, in March 2021 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged their presence and promptly announced their withdrawal.

– US distance from Ethiopia –

Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize for his reconciliation with Eritrea but has fallen out of favor with the United States, a longtime Ethiopian ally who has expressed disgust at the violence in Tigray, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of “ethnic cleansing”.

President Joe Biden’s administration booted Ethiopia out of a key trade deal that allowed duty-free access on Jan. 1, outraging sections of the growing Ethiopian-American community who said the United States was ceding influence to rival powers like China.

Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Washington Seleshi Bekele met with senior officials Thursday, including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and called on the United States to condemn the TPLF, which he says is responsible for violating the ceasefire.

Access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted and Tigray has been under a communications lockdown for over a year.

TPLF spokesman Kindeya Gebrehiwot previously told AFP that a major offensive is coming from Eritrea.

Fighting had concentrated on Tigray’s southeastern border, with the rebels pushing into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, forcing residents to flee.

The fighting so far has not ended the relief effort. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said 17 trucks distributed fertilizer for farmers in their planting season in Tigray this week.

Abiy sent troops to Tigray in November 2020 to overthrow the TPLF in response to what he described as rebel attacks on federal army camps.

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