U.S. Creates Special Envoy Post to Address Crisis in Ethiopia

U.S. Creates Special Envoy Post to Address Crisis in Ethiopia

(bloomberg)—U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken approved the establishment of a special envoy for the Horn of Africa, where multiple political crises are unfolding.

The envoy, who is expected to be appointed in the coming weeks, will focus on the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia over a disputed border area, the department said in a statement Wednesday. The person will also tackle a disagreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, it said.

The creation of the post adds to the growing diplomatic pressure Ethiopia is facing over the continuing violence in Tigray.

On Wednesday, Blinken held talks with European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell to discuss “a variety of measures to support unhindered humanitarian access, investigation of human-rights violations and abuses, a cessation of hostilities, and the immediate withdrawal of Eritrea from Ethiopian territory.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an incursion into Tigray in November after soldiers allied to the dissident region’s former ruling party attacked a federal army camp. Four months of fighting has caused $1 billion of damage to infrastructure in Tigray, Abiy said on Tuesday.

Yields Surge

The impact of the conflict on state finances, combined with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, led the government to announce in January that it will seek debt relief under a Group of 20 initiative. Yields on the nation’s $1 billion of Eurobonds have risen 300 basis points since incursion started.

Advocacy groups including Amnesty International have alleged war crimes have taken place in Tigray. The humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres said Wednesday members of its staff witnessed extra-judicial killings in the region.

The MSF employees, who were traveling in a marked car, encountered the aftermath of an ambush on a Ethiopian military convoy between Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, and the town of Adigrat. Ethiopian soldiers stopped the MSF car and two public buses, separated the men from the women in the buses, and then shot dead four men, it said.

Ethiopian soldiers later pulled the MSF driver out of the vehicle, beat him with the back of a gun and threatened to kill him.

“This horrific event further underscores the need for the protection of civilians during this ongoing conflict, and for armed groups to respect the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including medical aid,” Karline Kleijer, head of emergency programs for MSF, said in a statement.

The government will investigate the MSF allegations, Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokeswoman, said in a response to questions sent by text message.

“The prime minister has made it clear in parliament that accountability is key,” she said.

Eritrean forces are present inside disputed territory that straddles the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, according to the United Nations.

The deployment in the so-called al-Fashqa triangle comes amid escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan over control of the area of fertile farming land.

“The conflict along the border between Sudan and Ethiopia remains active, with Sudanese Armed Forces and Ethiopian — including Amhara militias — and Eritrean forces deployed around Barkhat settlement in Greater Fashaga and clashes reported since early March,” the UN said Tuesday in its latest situation report on Ethiopia.

Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel didn’t answer his phone when Bloomberg called seeking comment.

The report on the deployment came as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted for the first time that Eritrean forces have been backing his government’s forces in a conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Answering questions posed by lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday, Abiy said he had no interest in escalating tensions with Sudan.

“Ethiopia also has many problems, and we are not ready to go to battle. We don’t need war,” he said in remarks translated into English for a live TV broadcast. “It is better to settle it in a peaceful manner.”

Tanks, Roads

Ethiopia and Sudan’s armies have deployed armaments including tanks and anti-aircraft batteries to the border region. Sudan is also building new roads to the border area to improve access during the rainy season that is due to begin in July.

Sudanese officials have discussed the al-Fashqa dispute with Saudi Arabian officials and this week welcomed an offer by the United Arab Emirates to mediate the border impasse as well as a disagreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Wednesday reiterated his call on the need to seek a binding legal agreement regulating the filling and operation of the dam. He stressed the necessity of avoiding unilateral measures that seek to impose a fait accompli, his office said in a statement.

The UN also said in its report that more than 140,000 people have been displaced from western Tigray since forces from Amhara occupied the area in November.

“The number of newly displaced people across the region continued to increase, with at least 1,000 people arriving daily in Shire,” the report said, referring to a town in northern part of Tigray.