US allows some embassy staff and family to leave Ethiopia as Tigray forces advance

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa has authorized the voluntary departure of some staff and their families as rebel forces from northern Ethiopia advance toward the capital.

The move came after the United States said on Wednesday it was “gravely concerned” about the spread of hostilities and called for a halt to military operations in favor of ceasefire talks.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government declared a state of emergency, with forces from the northern Tigray region threatening to advance towards Addis Ababa.

The Tigrayan forces are currently in the town of Kemise in Amhara state, 325 kilometers from the capital, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesman Getachew Reda said Wednesday evening.

The US Embassy has said further escalation is likely and it is not safe to travel to Ethiopia.

“The [State] The department has authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency US government employees and family members of emergency and non-emergency employees in Ethiopia due to armed conflict, civil unrest and possible supply shortages, ” did he declare.

The government has already restricted or shut down internet and phone services during the civil unrest, he added.

Ethiopian government official Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In another sign of international alarm, Uganda announced Thursday that President Yoweri Museveni had called a meeting of East African bloc leaders on November 16 to discuss the conflict in Ethiopia.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he spoke to Mr. Abiy on Wednesday “to offer him my good offices in order to create the conditions for a dialogue so that the fighting ceases”.

The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, is expected to arrive in Addis Ababa on Thursday to call for the end of military operations in the north and to call for the opening of ceasefire talks.

Britain on Wednesday urged its citizens to reconsider their need to stay in Ethiopia and consider leaving as long as trade options were available.

The conflict began a year ago when forces loyal to the TPLF, including soldiers, seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Mr. Abiy sent more troops to the northern region.

The TPLF dominated national politics for about three decades, but lost a lot of influence when Mr. Abiy took office in 2018 after years of anti-government protests.

The group then accused him of centralizing power to the detriment of Ethiopia’s regional states, an accusation denied by Mr. Abiy.

TPLF advance

Tigrayan forces and their Oromo allies have made significant progress over the past week. Mr. Getachew pledged Wednesday to minimize the number of victims in their campaign to take Addis Ababa.

“We don’t intend to shoot civilians and we don’t want bloodshed. If possible, we would like the process to be peaceful, ”he said.

A regional analyst, who requested anonymity, said the TPLF would likely delay any progress on Addis Ababa until it has secured the highway from neighboring Djibouti to the capital.

This requires seizing the city of Mille. Mr Getachew said Tuesday that Tigrayan forces were closing in on Mille.

As the Tigrayan and Oromo forces set their sights on Addis Ababa, Mr. Abiy pledged to bury the enemies of his government “with our blood”.

However, the statement posted on its Facebook page was removed by the platform for violating its policies against inciting and supporting violence, the company said.

Updated: November 4, 2021, 4:04 PM