USA, others warn citizens of Ethiopia to leave as prime minister on their way to the front lines

The US government is warning American citizens in Ethiopia even more to leave the country now that the conflict there continues to worsen.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is on his way to the front lines to lead federal government forces, he announced, urging his fellow citizens to join him and “lead the country with a victim.”

On the other hand, forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region, now in line with other ethnic groups, march on the capital Addis Ababa, pledging to end Abiy’s blockade of their region a year after the fighting there, opening decades-old wounds. .

Now the conflict in Africa’s second most populous nation is increasingly existential on both sides, potentially “tearing the country apart and spreading to other countries in the region,” as Foreign Minister Antony Blinken warned in recent days.

The U.S. special envoy for the region said he still hoped for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement after some “budding progress”, but warned that the fast-moving conflict threatened to quickly sweep away international diplomatic efforts and cause “a bloodbath or chaos. “

This fear has driven new warnings from foreign countries, including France and Turkey, urging their citizens to leave the country immediately while commercial flights are back. The UN announced that it would also evacuate its employees’ relatives on Tuesday.

Since November 5, the U.S. Embassy in Addis has been on ordered departure, evacuating non-emergency personnel and the families of diplomats, leaving a smaller team. While the mission remains open and continues to provide services such as passports and repatriation loans, the US military maintains a “state of emergency”, according to the US Africa Command, in the event of problems “related to the security of our diplomats, where the security environment has deteriorated . “

But following the unprecedented, chaotic evacuation effort from Afghanistan, the State Department has made an extraordinary effort to ensure that U.S. citizens in Ethiopia know that military flights like those from Kabul will not come to their rescue.

“There should be absolutely no expectation that the military will be involved,” a senior State Department official said Monday. For several months, the agency has been issuing travel warnings, urging Americans to depart now, while Addis’ International Airport continues commercial flights.

This week, their warnings have used even stronger language: “We just want to make sure we do not get into a situation where American citizens are waiting for something that will never happen,” the senior State Department official added. “We need them to remember what the norm is and the norm to leave commercially while it is available.”

The official and others have declined to talk about any plans to close the embassy or evacuate U.S. diplomats, other than to say they are “engaged in contingency planning for hypothetical matters” with the Pentagon.

The Pentagon declined to comment on any troop movements to ABC News after a report that the United States had put the Navy’s ships in the region on “standby” and deployed a small number of Army Rangers to neighboring Djibouti. The Pentagon’s East African Response Force – a team trained to move within 24 hours to assist US embassies in the region with additional security or an evacuation – is based in the small African country

Despite the increasingly grim development on the battlefield, the State Department made it clear that it has not yet given up a diplomatic decision.

“There is some nascent progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiation process, but what worries us is that this fragile progress risks being surpassed by the alarming developments on the ground … of the military escalation in the area. two sides, “Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, special envoy for the Horn of Africa, told reporters on Tuesday.

In particular, Tigrayan forces said this week that they are now about 130 miles northeast of Addis, while Abiy on Monday declared he would go to the front lines to lead troops directly.

“Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goals with military force and thinks they are on the verge of winning,” Feltman said Tuesday, back in Washington after days of meetings in Addis. He met not only Abiy and Tigrayan leaders, but also the African Union Special Envoy for the Conflict, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

From these meetings, Feltman said he sensed a “greater willingness to brainstorm with us on how to put together parts of a de-escalation and negotiated ceasefire process” – instead of a direct refusal to consider means other than power at all.

What the two sides say they want can also be achieved at the same time, Feltman added: Abiy wants to return Tigray forces to the Tigray region, and Tigray forces want Abiy’s de facto blockade of the region to end.

“The tragedy is that the sad thing is that both sides have the same type of elements in mind … They just have to gather the political will to be able to turn from the military to the negotiations, and we are not the only ones encouraging them to do so. that, but we can not force them to the table, “Feltman said.

So far, US and international pressure, Obasanjo’s mediation and the humanitarian suffering of the Ethiopian people have not been enough to bring leaders to the table. Feltman said Abiy also told him at their meeting on Sunday that he had “confidence” that he could achieve his goals militarily – and the experienced US diplomat warned that the incitement to ethnic-based violence is running out control.

This means that there is “no sign” that direct negotiations are “on the horizon”, but perhaps some diplomacy on the back is possible – and Feltman and Obasanjo will continue to pursue it, according to the US diplomat.

“Right now, both sides are still pursuing military options, but they’re also committed to other ways of pursuing their goals … And that’s what I find marginally encouraging, but again, I do not want to exaggerate the case,” Feltman said.

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