US Ambassador calls for progress in Ethiopia peace talks and assistance

The new US ambassador to the Horn of Africa called on Saturday for progress on peace talks in Ethiopia and for unrestricted aid supplies to the affected areas of the country.

Mike Hammer, who arrived in Addis Ababa on Friday, held talks with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, the US embassy said.

They discussed “the need for further progress in ensuring the smooth delivery of humanitarian assistance, human rights accountability and political negotiations to end the conflict and achieve lasting peace,” the embassy said on Twitter.

The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and rival Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have raised the possibility of peace talks to end the violent conflict that erupted in November 2020.

But serious obstacles have arisen, not least over who should mediate any negotiations.

Abiy wants the Addis Ababa-based African Union to mediate any talks, while the TPLF insists neighboring Kenya do the talks.

Abiy’s National Security Adviser Redwan Hussain said on Twitter this week that the government is ready for talks “anytime, anywhere” and that negotiations should start “without preconditions.”

Meanwhile, Tigrai TV, affiliated with the TPLF, quoted rebel leader Debrecion Gebremichael as warning that basic services must be restored in Tigray before negotiations could begin.

Fighting in northern Ethiopia eased after a humanitarian truce was declared in late March, allowing much-needed aid convoys to resume.

Malnutrition and food insecurity

Countless people have been killed in the war, and the UN says more than 13 million people are in need of food aid in Tigray and the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, where there is high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Tigray itself lacks food, fuel and basic services such as electricity, communications and banking, with hundreds of thousands of people living in appalling conditions due to what the United Nations has described as a virtual blockade.

The UN Humanitarian Response Agency OCHA said that since the resumption of the movement of humanitarian convoys on April 1, as of July 19, 4,308 trucks had arrived in the Tigray capital Mekele.

In Addis Ababa, Hammer also “tested” the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a large-scale hydroelectric project on the Blue Nile, the embassy said.

On Friday, Egypt said it protested to the UN Security Council against Ethiopia’s plans to fill the controversial dam’s reservoir in a third year without the consent of downstream countries.

The multibillion-dollar GERD is slated to be the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa, but since work began in 2011, it has been at the center of a dispute with Egypt and Sudan.

“We actively support a diplomatic path forward under the auspices of the African Union that leads to an agreement that provides for the long-term needs of every citizen along the Nile,” Hammer said during a visit to Egypt this week.

Addis Ababa believes that GERD is essential for the electrification and development of Africa’s second most populous country.

But Cairo and Khartoum fear it could jeopardize their access to the vital waters of the Nile.