Pompeo expresses concern, urges peace in escalating Ethiopian conflict
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is putting the support of the U.S. behind the central Ethiopian government amid escalating conflict in the region and threats of an outbreak of civil war, calling for a deescalation of tensions and the restoration of peace.
In a statement on Wednesday evening, Pompeo said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” over reports that the Ethiopian military was attacked by regional forces of the Tigray government stationed in that territory, in the north of the country on the border with Eritrea.
Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed launched an offensive Wednesday against regional Tigray forces, accusing them of carrying out a deadly attack on the Ethiopian military, with Ahmed saying there were “several martyrs” from the attack, The Associated Press reported.
Military skirmishes outside the Tigray capital of Mekele were reported to be ongoing as of Thursday.
Pompeo on Wednesday urged “immediate action to restore the peace and de-escalate tensions.”
“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life,” he said. “The protection of civilian safety and security is essential.”
“We will continue to follow this situation closely. The United States stands with the people of Ethiopia and will work with all who are committed to peace, prosperity, democracy, and the rule of law,” he continued.
The escalating conflict has the potential to “rip the Ethiopian state asunder,” according to an analysis by the International Crisis Group.
Ethiopia is the second most-populous country in Africa, the seat of the African Union — the organization for the continent’s 55 nations — and a strategic U.S. partner for maintaining security and stability in the volatile Horn of Africa region.
Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 amid popular protests in the country, gained support on his push to “open Ethiopia politically and economically,” according to the Congressional Research Service, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pursuing peace with neighboring Eritrea, and among his pursuit of political and social reforms in the country.
The conflict between the central government in Addis Ababa and Mekele is a symptom of a broader problem impacting the nation, the International Crisis Group warns, where regional powers are pushing back against efforts by the federal government to assert more control.
The ICG is calling for the European Union and the next U.S. administration — as ballot counting in the presidential election continues — to engage more directly with Addis Ababa in opening a dialogue with the regional governments.
“The alternative, given the country’s multiple and bitter divides, is a potential march to war that would be catastrophic for Africa’s second most populous country and would send shock waves, and refugees, into other Horn of Africa countries as well as across the Mediterranean Sea,” the group wrote.