US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said Ethiopia’s warring parties should be welcomed to the negotiating table, in what could easily irk Addis Ababa, which insists the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is a terrorist group.
On the day Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo had said there were signs of a possible ceasefire in Ethiopia, her US counterpart said Washington endorses dialogue with all groups that have an axe to grind with the government in Addis Ababa.
Blinken, on the first day of his Africa trip, told diplomats in Nairobi that his government wanted all sides in the conflict to lay down their arms and open humanitarian corridors to save the starving.
For more than a year now, the TPLF has been fighting the Ethiopian National Defence Forces after the former reportedly attacked a northern command in Tigray.
The conflict has led to massive displacements, deaths of thousands and an ongoing humanitarian crisis. The TPLF have since announced an alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army, risking the spread of the conflict further south.
“It is very important that the differences, the conflicts, be resolved by people sitting down at the table, talking, discussing, negotiating,” Blinken told a joint press conference in Nairobi.
The call for everyone to negotiate came even as Ethiopia’s government lampooned the international community for what it said was propping up a terrorist organisation. In a statement on Sunday, the foreign ministry said the greatest danger to the country and the entire Horn of Africa was the TPLF.
“The real and present threat to peace in Ethiopia & Horn of Africa Region is the continued belligerence and aggression of the TPLF. We reiterate that the international community’s reluctance to condemn destabilising roles of the TPLF has emboldened the terrorist group,” the ministry said after Washington imposed sanctions on the Eritrean military and the only political party in the country for taking part in the Tigray war.
Ethiopia, which banned TPLF as a terror group, has said it will organise a national dialogue, but only invite legitimate stakeholders, including political parties, and not banned movements.
In Nairobi, though, Kenya said it expects the warring sides in Ethiopia to choose dialogue after weeks of appeals from the African Union and President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“President Kenyatta deals with this issue as a friend and as a neighbour of Ethiopia. And friends and neighbours believe in the potential of their neighbour,” Ms Omamo told the audience.
“We believe in the potential of Ethiopia to find a resolution to this crisis. We believe that a ceasefire is possible. We believe that the other conditions regarding humanitarian access are possible.”
President Kenyatta has twice this month asked warring parties to compromise, warning that only Ethiopian leaders will find peace for their country. On Sunday, he travelled to Addis Ababa, where he met with PM Abiy. The trip was seen as his latest effort to prevail upon parties to talk.
In Nairobi, Blinken, who has said he supports efforts by the African Union and its special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, also met with Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, the Ethiopian diplomat who is the executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development or Igad.
Diplomats told the Nation that Blinken pressed the same message: dialogue between all parties in Ethiopia, and a resumption of the old transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Sudan.
“The conflict in Ethiopia is a threat to peace and security in the Horn of Africa, and that is of deep concern to us too and it’s of deep concern to our partners, including here in Kenya. So we’re looking for all sides, as I said, to step back,” Blinken said.