US envoy meets Ethiopia deputy PM in bid to revive truce efforts

About 400,000 people in Tigray are believed to be living in famine-like conditions

Jeffrey Feltman, the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, met Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen on Thursday in a bid to revive stalled talks on a ceasefire, as the Ethiopian government gave permission for 369 aid lorries to enter famine-hit Tigray.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo — now the African Union's high representative for the Horn of Africa — and Mr Feltman arrived in Ethiopia on Thursday, the country's foreign ministry said.

Mr Obasanjo and Mr Feltman have said they want the Ethiopian government and rebellious Tigrayan forces and their allies to declare an unconditional ceasefire that will humanitarian aid access to areas in northern Ethiopia affected by fighting.

Leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) want Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to step down and the government to allow aid to reach Tigray. The government wants Tigrayan forces to withdraw from territory they have captured in neighbouring regions.

The TPLF have publicly speculated that their forces could march south on the capital Addis Ababa, but more intense fighting has been reported in their push east as they attempt to capture the route linking landlocked Ethiopia to the region's main port of Djibouti.

About 400,000 people in Tigray are believed to be living in famine-like conditions and only a trickle of aid has entered the region for months.

Widespread hunger has also been reported in the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, home to the cities of Lalibela and Kombolcha, which Tigrayan forces and their allies say they control.

“During their discussions, Demeke disclosed that humanitarian flights to Lalibela and Kombolcha are allowed and in addition 369 aid trucks are permitted to enter to Tigray,” a tweet from the government communications service read.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left Kenya on Thursday after discussing Ethiopia with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“A lot of what was discussed yesterday was how we marry the different efforts” of the US, the African Union and other mediators, a senior State Department official told reporters.

Mr Kenyatta, who was in Addis Ababa on Sunday, indicated that Mr Abiy “is more willing than he has been in the past to take advantage of the diplomatic efforts that have been there”, the official said.

Kenya has taken a more proactive role in mediation and sees the situation in neighbouring Ethiopia as a threat, the official said.

Updated: November 18th 2021, 4:45 PM