The African Union’s (AU) envoy for the Horn of Africa said on Monday that there is a short “window of opportunity” and little time to reverse the crisis in northern Ethiopia which has drastically deteriorated in the past few weeks amid an escalating offensive by Tigray forces against the government.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo told the UN Security Council that after talks with Ethiopia’s president and prime minister, and the presidents of the Tigray and Oromo regions whose forces are fighting government troops, he could say that they all “agree individually that the differences between them are political and require political solution through dialogue.”
Obasanjo, who briefed the UN’s most powerful body from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, said he was to visit Tigray’s neighboring Amhara and Afar regions yesterday to harmonize the views of leaders in the area on the “withdrawal of the troops from regions that are not theirs, and also in maintaining humanitarian access.”
“Before the end of this week, we hope to have a program in hand that will indicate how we can get the humanitarian and the withdrawal of troops all together to meet the ... immediate demand of the stakeholders on both sides of the conflict,” Obasanjo said.
Obasanjo and US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman have been holding urgent talks in search of a ceasefire in the year-old war that has killed thousands.
Feltman returned to Ethiopia from Kenya on Monday, and US Department of State spokesman Ned Price also said: “We believe there is a small window of opening” to work with Obasanjo “to further joint efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict.”
He said Feltman was to meet the AU high representative in Addis Ababa yesterday night.
Jaal Marroo, commander of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), on Sunday told Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that pro-government fighters were defecting and the rebels were very close to victory.
“What I am sure [of] is that it is going to end very soon,” Jaal, whose real name is Kumsa Diriba, said in a telephone interview.
“We are preparing to push for another launch, and for another attack. The government is just trying to buy time, and they are trying to instigate civil war in this country, so they are calling for the nation to fight.”
The OLA and its allies, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have claimed several victories in the past few weeks, taking towns about 400km from the capital, and have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.
Jaal said his fighters were just 40km from Addis Ababa and had “never moved [back] an inch” from territory they controlled.
Agence France-Presse could not independently confirm his claim.
Much of the conflict-affected zone is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield positions difficult to verify.
The government has rejected suggestions the rebels are within striking distance of Addis Ababa, but has ordered the capital to prepare to defend itself.
“While we are being tested on many fronts, our collective will to realize the path we have embarked upon has strengthened us,” Abiy wrote on Twitter on Monday.
Government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said the military had carried out airstrikes on Monday in Tigray and a “strategic” location between Amhara and Afar regions, without giving further details.
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