NAIROBI, Kenya — Alarm spiraled Tuesday over Ethiopia’s imminent tank attack on the capital of the defiant Tigray region and its population of half a million people, while the U.N. Security Council met for the first time on the three-week-old conflict amid warnings that food in the region is running out.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s 72-hour ultimatum for the region’s leaders to surrender ends on Wednesday. His military has warned civilians of “no mercy” if they don’t move away in time – which some rights groups and diplomats say could violate international law.
“The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekele is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger,” United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said. The allegation that Tigray leaders were hiding among civilians “does not then give the Ethiopians state carte blanche to respond with the use of artillery in densely populated areas.”
A year before taking power in Ethiopia and introducing reforms to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Abiy successfully defended a PhD thesis in conflict resolution. Now he sits in Africa’s diplomatic capital, home of the African Union, and rejects calls for dialogue.
Meanwhile, a powerful voice in diplomatic efforts, the United States, is in disarray as the Trump administration focuses on internal politics after losing the November election — and after President Donald Trump infuriated Ethiopia with comments on a separate issue this year.
The diplomatic vacuum has brought Ethiopia, one of Africa’s most powerful and populous countries, to what Amnesty International calls “the brink of a deadly escalation.”
Just ahead of the assault on Mekele, the U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Ethiopia for the first time. Members expressed support for the new AU-led envoy effort, one council diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation.
Over the weekend, the current AU chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, backed three high-level envoys, an initiative the U.N. chief quickly praised for “efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict.”
But in an unusually public disagreement, Ethiopia said the envoys would meet with Abiy and not the Tigray leaders.
“All possible scenarios will be on the table to talk, except bringing the gang to the table as a legitimate entity,” senior Ethiopian official Redwan Hussein told reporters. Abiy’s government insists the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front are criminals on the run.
Former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, writing in Foreign Policy, warns against internationally brokered…
Read More News: With Ethiopia on brink of escalation, diplomacy in doubt