ADDIS ABEBA – Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor P. Nagy gave briefed international reporters on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region this week. Below is an excerpt of the media briefing.
QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence of foreign military involvement in this conflict, whether in terms of troops, obviously, or in terms of military equipment? You mentioned being in touch with Eritrean officials. What do you see, if anything, coming out of this diplomatically?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Yeah, thanks. When I visited Eritrea a little over a year ago, I mentioned at the time that from the United States point of view, we would be delighted to have the same type of positive relations with Eritrea that we have with Ethiopia.
As far as internationalizing the conflict goes, that is one absolute danger that we are doing our best, and I think the entire region is doing its best, to avoid. As I mentioned, we expressed our thanks to Eritrea for not being provoked when they were attacked by missiles because apparently, one of the aims of the TPLF hardcore leadership was to try to internationalize the conflict so that they could – that that would be a way to try to really fan the flames of patriotism within the general population of Tigray, and we appreciate the fact that Eritrea has been restrained.
Obviously, the Ethiopian Government is also very keen to keep the situation from being internationalized because that would be destabilizing to the entire region, which, as you guys note, historically has been one of the most unstable regions in Africa, if not the world.
QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence that genocide has happened in Tigray? And is there any hope at this stage of mediation, or is Prime Minister Abiy going to fight on until he has full control of Tigray?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Well, because of the lack of communications, the reports – we have heard the sporadic reports of incidents, which some of the human rights organizations have characterized could be labeled as war crimes, but that’s why one of the things we very much want is an independent investigation, which will be very important when the means are available for that.
What was the second part of your question?
QUESTION: — or is Prime Minister Abiy going to fight on until he has full control?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Yeah, excellent, okay, that’s very important. And we get that question immediately: “What about mediation?” “Why don’t you hop on an airplane, get over there?”
Mediation, I think it’s very important to underscore – it’s a tactic, it’s a way to get to the goal. It’s not a goal in itself. I mean, our goal is a quick end to the conflict, restoration of peace, protection of civilians. At a point where mediation will become useful, i.e. that the two parties indicate an interest in mediation, you can bet that the United States would be there in an instant. A whole series of regional leaders, continental leaders, other international leaders have reached out with offers of mediation. At this point, neither party, from everything we hear, is interested in mediation.
However, having said that, I think it’s also very important to keep in mind that on the one hand, everybody focuses on the military campaign. But alongside the military campaign, there are indications that there’s very much a political campaign going on within Ethiopia, because you talk about Tigrayans; Tigrayans are not the enemy, and the Ethiopian Government acknowledges this very strongly that Tigrayans are one of the many ethnic groups in Ethiopia. And even the TPLF – you talk about the TPLF; it is a – it’s a large, large party. You have hundreds of thousands of members.
The – from my conversations, the Ethiopian Government is in very strong opposition during this campaign to some of the leadership of the TPLF, and Ambassador Raynor can add additional details, but I understand that the Ethiopian Government has already appointed an interim administration to start administering those parts of Tigray which are being returned to state authority from the TPLF regime.
QUESTION: Thanks. Based on what you just said, I feel a little sheepish asking this, but can you talk about Sudan and the knock-on effects that the refugee influx has had on a very tenuous time for the transitional government.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Okay. Very quickly, I don’t believe that this is going to disrupt the very successful transition which is going on in Sudan. I mean, my gosh, Sudan’s the good news story of the year. And again, on the refugee flow, we’re – USAID, U.S. Agency for International Development, is very much involved in there, in that, as are a number of other partners, looking at what we can do, how we can move quickly. The Sudanese Government also is obviously cooperating very closely.
And it’s a sad truth, but unfortunately Sudan has had to go through with this a number of times. Again, I mean, I give the highest credit to the Government of Sudan. And this has been through a number of their various regimes. Immaterial of what the regimes in Sudan were or what the regimes in Ethiopia were, whenever there were these humanitarian emergencies, the Sudanese have provided just an incredibly welcoming and supportive refuge for the refugees coming out of Ethiopia. Whether they were escaping the emperor or the Marxist Derg or the TPLF government or now, it just a very long history of genuine cordiality and welcome from the people of Sudan for the people of Ethiopia..
QUESTION: Just to follow up… The government is signaling this could end shortly, do you expect that fighting in Ethiopia ends with that? Or do you fear that Prime Minister Abiy will push to consolidate elsewhere, in other regions?
And then secondly, the TPLF chairman told the Financial Times at some point this week that a breakup of Ethiopia could be one of the consequences of this. Can you speak to fears of that? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NAGY: Okay. I obviously can’t make any comments on any possible boycott of Ethiopia. I mean, you can imagine that the Ethiopian – the global diaspora is – probably has some very, very divergent views. All you have to do is look at some of the comments that we get on our Twitters.
As far as the fighting leading to other ethnic conflict, you have to say – okay, I’m not privy to the thinking of the
TPLF leadership when they started this, but this was not to secede and create an independent state from Ethiopia, because the Ethiopian constitution has a provision for the states to be able to secede peacefully. I mean, again, difficult to tell motivation, but it seems like they were doing this more to depose the prime minister from power and to reassert themselves into the prominent position that they had atop the Ethiopian political spectrum for the last 27 years.
So hopefully right now I think that their tactic has had the opposite effect from what they were planning. And Mike can confirm this, but it seems like this has brought the Ethiopian nation together, at least for the time being, in support of the prime minister, because this has really stoked Ethiopian nationalism, and hopefully that that – those positive forces will remain.
But again, I want to make it very clear that this is not about Tigray. There is no equivalency here. This is not two sovereign states fighting against each other. This is a faction of the government running a region in Ethiopia that has decided to undertake hostilities against the central government, and it has not – in my view – has had the effect that they thought that they were going to get.