NAIROBI -- An American envoy stated Tuesday that he saw "nascent advances" in talks between Ethiopia and its warring sides towards a ceasefire. However, he is concerned about the "alarming" military developments during the long-running war in Africa's second most populous country.
Jeffrey Feltman spoke with reporters following his recent visit to Ethiopia. There, rival Tigray forces are pushing towards Addis Ababa's capital and a growing number countries are telling their citizens to flee immediately. Monday's announcement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that he would lead "from the field" in a conflict that has claimed the lives of tens and thousands of people, was made by Abiy Ahmed.
Feltman stated that warring parties are now discussing elements they want to see at the table in negotiations. However, "the tragedy" is that, while elements are similar, opinions differ about which one to tackle first.
He said, "Unfortunately each side is trying its best to achieve their goals using military force and believe that they are close to winning."
A Tigray external affairs officer issued Tuesday a statement indicating the Tigray forces defiance. It stated that any peace initiative whose primary objective is to save Abiy Ahmad from imminent death is dead upon arrival.
The U.S. ambassador stated that the Tigray forces had to stop their march on the capital. He also warned that their demands could increase as they move closer. Before Abiy was elected in 2018, the Tigray forces dominated the national government. They are known for their political repression and economic development. Feltman stated that they would be met with "unrelenting hostility" if they entered Addis today.
According to the envoy, Ethiopia's prime Minister told him that his priority was to free the Tigray forces from the Amhara and Afar areas where they currently occupy. He said "we share this objective" and added that the Tigray leaders are focusing on breaking the long-running government "siege" in their home region which has prevented the delivery of food and medicine.
Abiy also stated to the U.S. envoy that he is confident he can push Tigray forces back into their homeland in the north. However, Feltman expressed doubts and said that he was not sure. He was encouraged that Abiy was open to discussing details about a diplomatic process to end the fighting.
"There is no indication that there will be direct talks between the two parties, nor is it necessary," Feltman said, adding that there are many ways to have "political processes", including proximity talks.
The urgent issues are access to humanitarian aid for Tigray, and to a growing population of Amhara and Afar whose fighting has impeded aid.
Tuesday's statement by the World Food Program stated that it was granted access to aid warehouses located in Kombolcha. The city was occupied last month and Tigray forces had taken over. It found "substantial quantities" of food looted. The Associated Press was informed by a WFP spokesperson that they believe the looting was done by "some elements" of the Tigray force and the local population.
Olesegun Obasanjo (African Union envoy) is also leading diplomatic efforts in Ethiopia. He has not spoken publicly about talks that included trips to Tigray capital to meet Tigray leaders.
France, Turkey, and other countries called for Ethiopian citizens to leave, while the United Nations stated that it had decided to relocate dependents of international staffers. Addis Ababa authorities attempted to reassure foreign diplomats by claiming that the city was "in a stable peace state," according to the independent Addis Standard.