ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia on Thursday accused the United States of spreading false information about security conditions in the war-hit country and warned such statements could harm ties.
Washington once viewed Ethiopia as a vital security partner in the volatile Horn of Africa, but relations have soured over Ethiopia’s year-long war against rebels who are now threatening to march on the capital Addis Ababa.
On November 5, the State Department ordered the withdrawal of non-essential embassy staff because of “armed conflict, civil unrest, and possible supply shortages”, and several other diplomatic missions have followed suit.
This week the US embassy further rankled Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government by posting a warning about the potential for terrorist attacks in Ethiopia.
“Previously they disseminated the information that Addis Ababa is surrounded [by rebels], now they are saying this false information that a terror attack will be conducted,” Kebede Desisa, a government spokesman, told a press conference for state media Thursday.
“These actions hurt the two countries’ historical relations,” he said.
The war erupted in November 2020 when Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into the Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
He said the move was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had retaken most of Tigray, including its capital Mekele.
Since then, the TPLF has pushed into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, and this week it claimed to have seized a town just 220 kilometres (135 miles) from Addis Ababa.
The African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading a diplomatic push for a ceasefire, but there have been few signs of progress so far.
On Wednesday state media reported that Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel in the military, had arrived at the front line to lead a counter-offensive, handing over regular duties to his deputy.
Also on Wednesday, Ireland announced Ethiopia had demanded the departure of four of its Addis Ababa-based diplomats because of Ireland’s critism of the war.
Ethiopia has also expelled seven senior UN officials over alleged “meddling” in the country’s affairs.
The Biden administration this month announced its intention to boot Ethiopia from a key trade pact that grants duty-free access for most exports.
But it has held off on imposing sanctions against the Ethiopian government and rebels in hopes of encouraging a settlement.