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State Department urges all U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia amid anti-government pact

Americans have been warned to leave the East African country "as soon as possible."
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The State Department urged all U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to leave the country as "soon as possible" on Friday as an alliance of anti-government forces vowed to see the East African nation's leadership dismantled.

"The security environment in Ethiopia is very fluid," the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa warned in a statement published online.

"We advise U.S. citizens who are in Ethiopia to leave the country as soon as possible," it said, adding that commercial flights could be booked from the capital's Bole International Airport.

It comes after the State Department issued a level 4 "do not travel" advisory on Tuesday warning Americans against traveling to Ethiopia "due to armed conflict, civil unrest" and the "potential for terrorism and kidnapping in border areas."

For those still in Ethiopia or planning to go, the department advised that they "draft a will," "designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries" and "discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care custody of children, pets, property" and belongings.

The warning came as nine anti-government groups formed an alliance to see Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government dismantled, whether "by force or by negotiation."

The group announced its alliance in Washington on Friday amid calls from African and Western leaders for a ceasefire to a war that has stretched on for just over a year now.

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Ethiopian government forces and their allies have been clashing with the Tigray People's Liberation Front and others since November 2020 after Abiy accused local authorities in Tigray of attacking a military camp, a charge the TPLF denied.

Since then, the fighting has led to thousands of deaths, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced, while a blockade of Tigray has been blamed for causing mass starvation in the region.

The pact signed on Friday expands a pre-existing agreement between the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army, members said, with all factions of the new agreement having armed units.

Okok Ojulu Okok, second from right receives documents during the signing ceremony of the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces to establish a grand United Front to fight against the Abiy Ahmed regime in Ethiopia, in Washington on Nov. 5, 2021.Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP

“We’re trying to bring an end to this terrible situation in Ethiopia, which is created single-handedly by the Abiy government,” said Berhane Gebrekristos, a TPLF leader and former Ethiopian ambassador to the U.S. “Time is running out for him.”

Mahamud Ugas Muhumed of Somali State Resistance said the "next step" in the group's efforts will be to "organize ourselves and totally dismantle the existing government, either by force or by negotiation ... then insert a transitional government."

NBC News has contacted the Ethiopian government for comment.

Asked for reaction, Abiy’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, referred Reuters to a comment she posted on Twitter on Thursday in which she defended Abiy's leadership since he took power in 2018.

Image: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. An anti-government alliance has vowed to see Ahmed removed from power.Tiksa Negeri / Reuters file

"The opening up of the political space (after Abiy’s appointment) three years ago provided ample opportunity for contenders to settle their differences at the ballot box in June 2021," she said in the tweet, referring to an election that saw Abiy’s party win a landslide victory.

In a later statement published on Friday, Seyoum appeared to take more direct aim at the anti-government coalition asserting that the Ahmed administration remained "committed to the stability and growth of Ethiopia."

"Dispensing Constitutional responsibilities to avert the threat of terrorist and insurgent groups that have chosen to take up arms over partaking in democratic processes remain key," she said.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Attorney General Gedion Timothewos dismissed the alliance as “a publicity stunt” as he accused some of the groups involved in the pact of having a record of “ethnic cleansing."

The TPLF said on Tuesday that its forces were closing in on Mille, a town that would give them access to cut off the highway connecting neighboring Djibouti to Addis Ababa.

But on Friday, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu rejected that claim, saying the fighting was happening at least 50 miles from Mille.

He also said there was fighting at least 60 miles north of Shewa Robit, a town on the A2 highway, which connects Ethiopia's capital to the country's north.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for an immediate ceasefire to the fighting.

"The conflict in Ethiopia must come to an end," he said.