France urges citizens to leave war-hit Ethiopia ‘without delay’

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France on Tuesday became the latest country to advise citizens to leave war-torn Ethiopia as Tigrayan rebels claimed to be advancing closer to the capital Addis Ababa.

“All French nationals are formally urged to leave the country without delay,” the French embassy in Addis Ababa said in an email sent to French citizens.

Embassy staff were taking steps to facilitate citizens’ departure by booking seats on commercial flights and would “if necessary” organize a charter flight, the email said.

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Countries including the US and UK have issued similar advisories in recent weeks while also withdrawing non-essential staff.

A French embassy official said there could be some “voluntary” departures of embassy staff, particularly those with families.

Northern Ethiopia has been wracked by conflict since November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner promised a swift victory, but by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of Tigray including its regional capital Mekele.

Since then the TPLF has pushed into the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions.

It has also formed an alliance with other insurgent groups including the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which is active in the Oromia region surrounding Addis Ababa.

The TPLF this week claimed control of Shewa Robit, just 220 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.

Some TPLF fighters were believed to have reached Debre Sina, roughly 30 kilometers closer to Addis Ababa, diplomats briefed on the security situation said.

A communications outage in much of the conflict-hit zone has made battlefield movements difficult to verify.

The government has not responded to requests about the status of Shewa Robit.

The African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading a frantic push to broker a ceasefire, but so far there has been little concrete progress.

On Monday Abiy seemed to cast doubt on the prospects of a peaceful solution, announcing he was heading to the front “to lead the defense forces.”

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