US envoy Mike Hammer, seen in 2012 on a visit to Honduras, will head to Ethiopia to encourage an end to renewed fighting with Tigrayan rebels

US sends envoy to Ethiopia and condemns Eritrea’s return to war

US Ambassador Mike Hammer, seen on a 2012 visit to Honduras, will travel to Ethiopia to call for an end to renewed hostilities with Tigray rebels – Copyright AFP Tony KARUMBA

Sean TANDON

The United States on Friday sent an envoy to Ethiopia to end renewed fighting and condemned neighboring Eritrea for re-entering the conflict in the northern Tigray region.

Mike Hammer, the US special envoy to the Horn of Africa, will travel to Ethiopia this weekend and “message that all parties must cease military operations and begin peace talks,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“We condemn Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict, the TPLF’s continued offensive outside of Tigray and the Ethiopian government’s air strikes,” she told reporters, referring to the Tigray rebel People’s Liberation Front.

Fighting resumed last week in the northern region after a five-month lull, dashing hopes for a peaceful resolution to the nearly two-year-old war and an end to the humanitarian crisis that saw Tigray suffer from widespread famine.

“There is no military solution to the conflict,” Jean-Pierre said.

“Restraint must be exercised by all parties, and we call on all parties to de-escalate, especially so that humanitarian assistance and basic services can be resumed to all parties in need.”

Hammer, a veteran U.S. diplomat, took on the role in June and visited Ethiopia the following month to help kick off peace talks that never got off the ground due to disagreements between the government and the TPLF, even when a ceasefire was respected.

Both sides exchanged accusations at the start of the latest round of hostilities.

The TPLF, once Ethiopia’s dominant power, said historical rival Eritrea has again sent troops as part of a major offensive involving Ethiopian troops.

Eritrea, one of the world’s most closed countries with one of the most authoritarian governments, has been accused of heinous violence during the conflict.

Amnesty International said Eritrean forces killed hundreds of civilians in the ancient city of Aksum at the start of the conflict in November 2020.

After months of denying that Eritrean troops had crossed the border, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged their presence in March 2021 and promptly announced their withdrawal.

– USA distance from Ethiopia –

Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize for reconciliation with Eritrea, but fell out of favor with the United States, a longtime ally of Ethiopia, who expressed disgust at the violence in Tigray, where US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke of “ethnic cleansing.”

President Joe Biden’s administration excluded Ethiopia from a key trade deal that allowed duty-free access effective January 1, angering segments of the growing Ethiopian-American community who said the United States was ceding influence to rival powers like China.

Ethiopian Ambassador to Washington Seleshi Bekele met Thursday with senior officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and called on the United States to condemn the TPLF, which he says is guilty of violating the ceasefire.

Access to the northern part of Ethiopia is severely restricted, and in Tigray communications have been cut off for more than a year.

ONLF spokesman Kindeya Gebrehivot had previously told AFP that a major offensive was coming from Eritrea.

Fighting was fought around the southeastern border of Tigray, the rebels advanced into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, forcing the inhabitants to flee.

The fighting has so far not led to a halt in relief efforts. UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said 17 trucks were delivering fertilizer in Tigray to farmers during the planting season this week.

Abiy sent troops to Tigray to overthrow the TPLF in November 2020 in response to what he said was a rebel attack on federal army camps.

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