ADDIS ABABA, Nov 18 (Reuters) – A top U.S. diplomat met Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister on Thursday in a bid to revive stalled talks about a ceasefire, as the Ethiopian government gave permission for 369 aid trucks to enter famine-hit Tigray where fighting began a year ago.
U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo – now the African Union’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa – both arrived in Ethiopia on Thursday, the foreign ministry said.
Feltman met Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, who doubles as foreign minister, the government communication service tweeted.
Feltman and Obasanjo have said they want the Ethiopian government and rebellious Tigrayan forces and their allies to declare an unconditional ceasefire and allow access for humanitarian aid 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 permit humanitarian aid into Tigray. The government says Tigrayan forces must withdraw from territory they have captured in neighbouring regions.
The TPLF have publicly speculated that Tigrayan forces might march south on the capital Addis Ababa, but more intense fighting has been reported in their push east, a bid to capture the route linking landlocked Ethiopia to the region’s main port, Djibouti.
Around 400,000 people in Tigray are believed to be living in famine conditions and only a trickle of aid has entered there for months. Widespread hunger is also reported in the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, home to the towns 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.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
U.S. 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” from the U.S., the AU, and other mediators, a senior state department official told reporters on the plane.
Kenyatta, who was in Addis Ababa on Sunday, indicated that 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.
Kenyatta has taken a more proactive role in mediation and sees the situation in neighbouring Ethiopia as a threat, the official said.