Blinken calls for negotiations amid Ethiopia military escalation

US Secretary of State expresses concern over escalating fighting between gov’t forces and Tigrayan fighters.

Ethiopian soldiers parade with national flags attached to their rifles at a rally organised by local authorities in Addis Ababa [AP Photo]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greatly concerned about Ethiopia’s military escalation and called for urgent negotiations over the crisis, a US State Department spokesperson said.

The comments late on Friday came hours after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared on the front line with the national army.

“Secretary Blinken expressed grave concern about worrying signs of military escalation in Ethiopia and emphasised the need to urgently move to negotiations,” Ned Price said in a statement.

Price released the statement after a phone call between Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Blinken.

On Friday, Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting reported that Abiy was on the front-line with the army fighting rebel Tigrayan forces in the northeastern Afar region.

Abiy posted the same video on his Twitter account.

“We won’t give in until we bury the enemy,” he said in a recorded statement, adding that the army’s morale was high.

Abiy’s government has been fighting Tigrayan forces for more than a year, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions in Africa’s second-most populous nation.

On Friday, the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) said the number of people requiring food aid in the country’s north had surged to more than nine million.

The conflict began in November 2020 when Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent troops to Tigray to remove the region’s governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The TPLF dominated the federal government for nearly 30 years until Abiy took office in 2018.

After a few weeks, government forces seized Tigray’s capital Mekelle in what seemed to be a decisive victory. However, the war raged on and by June 2021 Tigrayan forces had retaken most of the region and pushed into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

The Tigrayan forces recently reported major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220km (135 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa. Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is severely restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies