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US and others warn Ethiopian citizens to leave as prime minister heads to front lines

The US government is even more categorically warning US citizens in Ethiopia to leave the country now, as the conflict continues to escalate.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is heading to the front lines to lead the forces of the federal government, he said, urging his fellow citizens to join him and “run the country with a sacrifice”.

On the other side, forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, now aligned with other ethnic groups, are marching towards the capital Addis Ababa, pledging to end the blockade imposed by Abiy on their region a year after the fighting has shattered decades-old wounds there.

Today, the conflict in Africa’s second most populous country is increasingly existential for both sides, potentially “tearing the country apart and spilling out into other countries in the region,” as has been said. warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken in recent days.

The US special envoy for the region said he still had hope for a ceasefire and a negotiated resolution after “nascent progress”, but warned the rapidly evolving conflict was threatening. swiftly wipe out international diplomatic efforts and cause “bloodshed or mayhem.”

That fear has prompted new warnings from foreign countries, including France and Turkey, urging their citizens to leave the country immediately as long as commercial flights remain in place. The United Nations said it was also evacuating dependents from its staff on Tuesday.

As of November 5, the United States Embassy in Addis has been in order to leave, evacuating non-urgent staff and the families of diplomats and leaving a small team behind. While the mission remains open and continues to provide services such as passports and repatriation loans, the US military maintains a “state of readiness,” according to US Africa Command, in case there are any issues. ” related to the security of our diplomats where the security environment has deteriorated. “

But after the chaotic and unprecedented evacuation effort from Afghanistan, the State Department has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that American citizens in Ethiopia know that military flights like the ones from Kabul will not come to their rescue. .

“You absolutely should not expect the military to be involved,” a senior State Department official said on Monday. For months now, the agency has issued travel warnings, urging Americans to leave now while Addis International Airport continues its commercial flights.

This week, their warnings used even stronger language: “We just want to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in a situation where American citizens are waiting for something that will never happen,” the senior department official added. ‘State. “We need them to remember what the standard is, and the standard goes through advertising while it’s available.”

The official and others have declined to talk about any plans to close the embassy or evacuate US diplomats except to say they are “engaged in contingency planning for speculation” with the Pentagon.

The Pentagon declined to comment on any troop movement to ABC News after a report the United States had put naval ships in the area on “hold” and deployed a small number of Army Rangers to the country neighbor, Djibouti. The Pentagon East Africa Response Force – a team trained to move within 24 hours to assist US embassies in the region with additional security or evacuation – is based in the small African country

Despite increasingly gloomy developments on the battlefield, the State Department has made it clear that it has yet to give up on a diplomatic resolution.

“There is nascent progress in trying to move the parties from a military confrontation to a negotiation process, but what concerns us is that these fragile advances risk being overtaken by alarming developments on the ground. … by military escalation on both sides, “Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, special envoy for the Horn of Africa, told reporters on Tuesday.

In particular, Tigrayan forces said this week that they are now some 130 miles northeast of Addis, while Abiy said on Monday he would go to the front to lead the troops directly.

“Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goals through military force and thinks it is on the verge of winning,” Feltman said Tuesday, returning to Washington after days of meetings in Addis. He met not only Abiy and the Tigrayan leaders, but also the African Union Special Envoy for the Conflict, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

From those meetings, Feltman said he felt a “greater willingness to reflect with us on how you could piece together the pieces of a de-escalation process and a negotiated ceasefire” – instead of ‘a categorical refusal to even consider other means than force.

What both sides say they want can also be achieved at the same time, Feltman added: Abiy wants to bring Tigray forces back to the Tigray region, and Tigray forces want Abiy’s de facto blockade of the region to end.

“The tragedy is that the sadness is that both sides have the same kinds of things in mind.… They just need to muster the political will to move from the military to negotiations, and we are not the only ones encouraging them to do so, but we can’t force them to sit down, ”Feltman said.

For now, American and international pressure, Obasanjo’s mediation and the humanitarian suffering of the Ethiopian people have not yet been enough to bring the leaders to the table. Feltman said Abiy also told him at their meeting on Sunday that he was ‘confident’ he could achieve his goals militarily – and the veteran US diplomat warned the incitement to ethnic violence was getting out of hand .

This means that there is “no sign” that direct negotiations are “on the horizon”, but perhaps some behind-the-scenes diplomacy is possible – and Feltman and Obasanjo will continue to pursue this path, according to the American diplomat.

“At the moment, both sides are still pursuing military options, but they are also committed to other means of pursuing their objectives … And that is what I find slightly encouraging, but again, I do not want to exaggerate. the case, ”Feltman said. noted.

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