The United States on Wednesday warned “there is no military solution” to Ethiopia’s civil war and said diplomacy was the “first, last, and only option” after state-affiliated media said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was at the front line.
With government forces fighting rebels from the northernmost Tigray region, Ethiopian media reported that Abiy was at the front “giving leadership from the battlefield” in an escalating year-long crisis that has prompted growing international alarm.
“There is no military solution to the conflict in Ethiopia,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
“We are aware of reports that Prime Minister Abiy is on the front today, and media reporting of high-profile Ethiopian athletes, parliamentarians, party and regional leaders who have also announced that they will join the Prime Minister on the frontlines,” the official added.
“We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory and bellicose rhetoric, to use restraint, respect human rights, allow humanitarian access, and protect civilians.”
Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds of thousands pushed into famine conditions since November last year when the prime minister ordered a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the central government for decades before Abiy took office in 2018.
The remarks by Washington come one day after the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa reported “nascent progress” towards a diplomatic settlement between the government and Tigrayan rebels, but warned it risked being eclipsed by “alarming developments” on the ground.
The envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, had just returned from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa where he was renewing a push to broker a ceasefire.
On his visit to the region last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned that the war in Tigray has put Ethiopia on a “path to destruction” that could reverberate throughout east Africa and PM Abiy Ahmed must step up to end the conflict.
It was not clear where exactly Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, had deployed, and state media did not broadcast images of him in the field.
In the space of a year, Abiy’s government has gone from describing the Tigray conflict as a “law enforcement operation” to an “existential war”.
With the Ethiopian military’s retreat from Tigray in June and reports of it being weakened in recent months, Abiy’s government has declared a six-month state of emergency and called on all able citizens to join the fight.