UN warning to Ethiopia: ‘run out of ideas’, warns peacekeeping chief

UN peacekeeping chief describes the country as ‘hell’ after Ethiopia attacks and kills its own people

United Nations peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre le Clézio has warned war-torn Ethiopia was on a “path to destruction” and called on its new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to step up and end the violence.

Appearing before the UN security council on Tuesday, Le Clézio said the Horn of Africa country was dominated by what he called “the thug in chief”, describing the leaders who led the country’s political and ethnic conflicts as “fascist dictators”.

He also said it was just “a matter of time” before full-scale war broke out between ethnic groups and urged the Ethiopian people to urge Abiy to end the bloodshed.

Le Clézio was speaking on the 10th anniversary of Ethiopia’s devastating 2004-5 drought, which killed 70,000 people, the overwhelming majority of them Ethiopians.

A poor and war-ravaged country, Ethiopia is rich in resources and hydroelectric potential but needs to exploit them for economic survival.

Le Clézio also urged Ethiopia to intensify its military reforms, saying there was a “tremendous potential” for peace with Eritrea.

In a speech to the Guardian, Le Clézio said he was very disappointed that he had failed to convince the security council to recommend a bolstered UN contingent of peacekeepers for Ethiopia and Eritrea because he felt they had a “repercussions” for peace and security in the wider region.

And he warned that if Ethiopia and Eritrea did not settle their bitter border conflict “they could end up in war”.

“I keep telling you if peace isn’t broke, don’t fix it. We can be neighbours to each other in a very limited way. If they [Eritrea] don’t stop blocking their border,” he said.

“I fear that with this conflict they might go back to war. It’s very important that the cabinet of Ethiopia’s prime minister and government speak clearly to their people to say to them there is no longer a need to cut diplomatic ties [with Eritrea] because that is a discriminatory measure and it does not help their reconciliation.

“I hope that when the new prime minister said he was going to visit Eritrea he brings the initiative. They [Eritrea] are a very sophisticated country. All they have to do is stop these restrictions and for Ethiopia to accept them. The sooner this happens, the better.”

The UN has criticised the government of Abiy’s predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, for what it calls a brazen attack on protesters and ethnic minorities during a crackdown after disputed 2016 elections that cost him his job.

The violence has exacerbated Ethiopia’s ethnic divisions and deepened rifts between the Tigrayan ethnic group and the Amhara, which the army says is now being targeted.

Le Clézio told the security council the Ethiopian state has “run out of ideas” and called on Abiy to turn Ethiopia into a model that would “go beyond politics to transform the lives of its people”.

“This means bringing about a complete transformation of the socio-economic environment of Ethiopia’s most exposed and vulnerable people … while respecting the constitutional framework,” he said.

“For Ethiopia to enter a new era, the existing social, political and economic architecture must be dismantled.”

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