More countries have forced their nationals to leave Ethiopia, where an intense one-year war between federal troops and forces from the northern Tigray region appears to be taking a dramatic new turn.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced late Monday that he would head to the front line Tuesday to lead his troops and declare, “We are now in the final stages of rescuing Ethiopia.”
France on Tuesday advised its citizens to leave Ethiopia “without delay”. Germany has also called on its citizens to leave the country on the first available commercial flights, following similar advice by the United States and the United Kingdom in recent weeks, citing a deteriorating security situation.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said it was “temporarily relocating” families of international staff from Ethiopia, adding that its staff would remain in the country.
“We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops, taking into account the safety of our staff and the need to continue to deliver and deliver and to continue operations and support all the people. we need assistance, ”spokeswoman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday. .
The moves came when Tigrayan forces claimed in recent weeks that they were moving closer to the capital, Addis Ababa.
Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications eclipse and access for journalists is restricted, making the battlefield claims difficult to confirm.
But officials in Addis Ababa on Tuesday insisted that security forces, including youth groups, work to ensure the capital’s peace and stability and told the diplomatic community not to worry. The government has also previously accused its opponents of exaggerating their territorial gains.
“The propaganda and terror talks spread by the Western media fully reflect the peaceful state of the city on the ground, so the diplomatic community should feel no worries or fears,” said Kenea Yadeta, head of Addis Ababa. Peace and Security said. Bureau.
Northern Ethiopia has been plagued by conflict since November 2020 when Abiy sent troops to the Tigray region to overthrow the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after months of tension with the party, which has dominated national politics for three decades.
The winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize promised a quick victory, but by the end of June, the TPLF had regrouped and recaptured most of Tigray, including its regional capital, Mekelle.
Since then, Tigrayan forces have infiltrated neighboring Afar and Amhara regions and this week claimed control of Shewa Robit, just 220 km (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road. The government has not responded to requests for Shewa Robit status.
The African Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, has made a furious effort to mediate a ceasefire, but so far there has been little concrete progress.
The U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa on Tuesday reported “progress” toward a diplomatic settlement between the warring parties, but warned that it was in danger of being overshadowed by “alarming developments” on the ground.
“While there is some progress, there is a high risk of being surpassed by the military escalation on both sides,” Jeffrey Feltman told reporters after returning from a mission to Addis Ababa.
Separately, the leaders of South Africa and Kenya on Tuesday urged the rival parties to commit themselves to an immediate ceasefire and political dialogue.
But Abiy, who won the Nobel Prize in 2019 for forging peace with neighboring Eritrea, has himself raised doubts about the prospects for a peaceful solution.
“From tomorrow, I will mobilize to the front to lead the army,” he said Monday.
“Those who want to be among the Ethiopian children who will be honored by history, stand up for your country today. Let’s meet at the front. ”
It came weeks after the government declared a six-month state of emergency and called on all capable citizens to join the fight.
Vicki Huddleston, former US prosecutor at the US embassy in Ethiopia, told Al Jazeera “the threat has increased exponentially” despite several international efforts, including by the African Union and the US, to secure a peaceful solution. .
“What has happened now is that the prime minister himself says he is going to the field to lead his forces and that he wants everyone who supports him to follow and participate in the military campaign,” she said. “It tells me that the possibilities of a negotiated peace are diminishing or non-existent at this stage, which means Addis is under great threat and it also means that there is likely to be significantly more suffering,” Huddleston added.
“I see this as an increasingly desperate situation, and the prime minister himself also seems to be very desperate.”
Meanwhile, the UN on Tuesday launched a major effort to provide food aid to two villages in northern Ethiopia despite the looting of warehouses.
The UN’s World Food Program has said the “major food aid operation” will serve more than 450,000 people over the next two weeks in the Amhara towns of Kombolcha and Dessie, which are at a strategic crossroads on the main road to Addis Ababa.