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US Envoy Concerned Military Developments in Ethiopia May Outpace Diplomacy

Activists listen to speakers supporting the Ethiopian government during a protest in front of the White House in Washington on Nov. 21, 2021 demanding a stop for what they say is American support for the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

A top U.S. diplomat said Tuesday he was worried that military developments in Ethiopia were overtaking efforts to stop escalation of the country's bloody yearlong conflict.

Addressing reporters after his return from a trip to Ethiopia, U.S. Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman said he and other diplomats were trying to achieve a de-escalation and cease-fire between the Ethiopian federal government and forces led by the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front. TPLF says those forces are Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). The federal government says TPLF is a designated terrorist group.

Feltman said that the talks had made progress but acknowledged that both sides remained poised for more clashes.

FILE: U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman in Khartoum, Sudan, May 7, 2021.
FILE: U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman in Khartoum, Sudan, May 7, 2021.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on social media Monday that he would go to the battlefront to lead his forces in person, and he called on citizens to join him.

Meanwhile, the TPLF-led forces, who have been pushing south toward the capital, Addis Ababa, were reported Monday to have occupied a town about 220 kilometers away from the city.

On Tuesday, Feltman urged both sides to pull back from the brink of intensified war.

"After more than a year of fighting and hundreds of thousands of casualties and people displaced by fighting, it should be clear that there is no military solution," he said.

Feltman said Tigrayan leaders had told him their top priority was to break "the de facto humanitarian siege that the government of Ethiopia has imposed on Tigray since July."

He said Abiy wanted rebel forces to pull back to Tigray and leave the lands they occupied in the Amhara and Afar regions.

"The basic point is that these two objectives are not mutually exclusive. With political will, one can achieve both," he said. "Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goal by military force, and each side seems to believe that it's on the cusp of winning."

Feltman said the U.S. was not taking sides in the conflict, but he added that the U.S. was against a military advance by Tigrayan forces on the capital.

"I want to make it clear we are absolutely opposed to the to the TDF threatening Addis by cutting off the road to Djibouti or threatening Addis by actually entering," he said.