International alarm about the yearlong conflict in Ethiopia is growing, with regional and Western powers calling for an immediate ceasefire after Tigrayan forces battling federal troops made advances this week towards the capital, Addis Ababa.
As United States special envoy Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Ethiopia, the European Union and the East African bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on Thursday were among those to press for a halt in military operations.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced an IGAD meeting on November 16 to discuss the war, which pits the central government and allied forces against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its allies, while President Uhuru Kenyatta urged the rival parties to lay down their arms and find a path to peace.
“The fighting must stop!” he said in a statement, decrying the “particularly disturbing” lack of dialogue.
Kenya’s foreign ministry separately said that statements inciting ordinary citizens into the conflict “must be shunned”. Kenya has increased security along its borders amid fears of a wave of Ethiopians fleeing the war as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises spreads.
But Ethiopia’s government, which has declared a six-month state of emergency that could empower officials to conscript “any military age citizen who has weapons”, pledged on Thursday to fight on, in an apparent rebuke of the international ceasefire calls.
“This is not a country that crumbles under foreign propaganda! We are fighting an existential war!” the government’s communications office said on Facebook. “Our people, realising that we are in the final chapter of saving Ethiopia, should continue their heroic struggle,” it added.
David Zounmenou, a senior research consultant at the Institute of Security Studies, told Al Jazeera the continuation of the war in Africa’s second most-populous country could have a huge effect on regional peace.
“It is not only a concern for Ethiopia but the whole of the Horn of Africa. A speedy discussion to resolve the conflict is necessary,” Zounmenou said.
“All regional attempts, particularly from the African Union and the South African president, to US President Joe Biden to call upon leaders to engage in dialogue have remained without any impact,” he added. “Ethiopian leaders, particularly in Addis Ababa, believe they are capable to end the war by crushing their enemies.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s envoy Feltman, who this week insisted that “there are many, many ways to initiate discreet talks”, arrived in Addis Ababa to press for fighting to be halted and ceasefire discussions to begin.
The spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Billene Seyoum, did not respond on Thursday when asked whether he would meet the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa.
In a tweet, meanwhile, she accused the international media of being “overly alarmist” in its coverage of Ethiopia. “Perpetuating terrorist propaganda as truth from offices far off and detached from the ground is highly unethical,” she said.
African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said he met Feltman to discuss efforts towards dialogue and political solutions to the conflict.
For his part, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had spoken to Abiy on Wednesday and offered to help create the conditions for a dialogue.
The conflict has killed thousands of people, if not more, forced more than two million more from their homes, and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine.
The United States, the European Union and the United Nations said that an end to a de facto government blockade in Tigray is needed to avert a large-scale famine.
No humanitarian convoys have entered Tigray since October 18 and no fuel has entered to aid the humanitarian response since early August, according to the United Nations.
The conflict started last November when forces loyal to the TPLF, including some soldiers, seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Abiy sent more troops to the northern region.
The TPLF had dominated national politics for nearly 30 years but lost much influence when Abiy took office in 2018.
The TPLF then accused him of centralising power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regional states – an accusation Abiy has denied.