Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday he would not invade any nation, in comments aimed at quelling neighbouring countries’ concerns that he might use force to secure access to a sea port.
Abiy told state media on Oct. 13 that Ethiopia should assert what he called the landlocked nation’s right to access the Red Sea as much as possible through peaceful means, raising tensions with regional governments and the spectre of a fresh conflict in the Horn of Africa.
Coastal Eritrea, which secured independence from Ethiopia in 1993 following a lengthy civil war, described recent commentary over the Red Sea as “excessive” and urged concerned parties not be provoked, without directly addressing Abiy’s comments.
Both countries subsequently moved troops closer to their shared border, according to diplomats and humanitarians with knowledge of the movements, raising concerns of another conflict in a region already plagued by violence.
“Ethiopia has never invaded any country and now Ethiopia has no intention to invade any country,” Abiy told thousands of soldiers gathered in the capital Addis Ababa to celebrate the national army on Thursday.
Abiy said Ethiopia would not pursue its interests “through force”, and that “it wouldn’t pull the trigger on its fellow brothers.”
In the days following the exchange Eritrea deployed troops in the town of Bure, along the border with Ethiopia’s Afar region, while Ethiopia moved troops towards that same border, two diplomats and one humanitarian said.
Abiy won a Nobel peace prize in 2019 for his peacemaking efforts which ended two decades of hostility with Eritrea.
Eritrea then fought alongside Ethiopia in the war against regional forces from Tigray, but relations soured once again after Asmara was excluded from the peace talks that ended that conflict in November, and because some of its troops remain in Tigray.
“It’s an open secret that relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara have grown ever frostier over the past year,” said Alan Boswell, project director, Horn of Africa, at the International Crisis Group.
“There are major concerns around the region that the relationship could deteriorate further and risk outright hostility.”
In response to Abiy’s latest comments, a senior official from Djibouti, which hosts naval bases for several nations including the United States and China, said his country was sovereign.
“Our territorial integrity cannot be disputed today, or tomorrow,” said Alexis Mohamed, a senior adviser to Djibouti’s president.
Somalia’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw and Giulia Paravicini, writing by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Hereward Holland and Christina Fincher