China to appoint Horn of Africa envoy amid Ethiopia crisis

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — China’s foreign minister says his country will appoint a special envoy to the Horn of Africa region, where Ethiopia and Eritrea have been fighting forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Somalia is in the grip of a political crisis caused by a long-delayed election.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in comments to reporters during his Thursday visit to Kenya, didn’t say when the appointment would be made. He urged countries in the Horn of Africa, a strategic but at times turbulent region, to hold a peace conference and said China’s envoy could provide “necessary support” for that process.

China’s interests in the region include a military base in the tiny nation of Djibouti, tucked between Somalia and Eritrea. China also is the largest foreign direct investor in Ethiopia, whose economy has been suffering from massive spending on the war.

China’s announcement of a new envoy came as the United States’ special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, was again visiting Ethiopia Thursday in the hope of taking advantage of a relative lull in the country’s conflict to press for a cease-fire and path to peace. Washington has seen Kenya as a key partner in the mediation efforts.

But Feltman is ending his appointment “in the coming days,” and Ambassador David Satterfield will take up the post, the U.S. State Department said Thursday in a statement. Satterfield is a veteran diplomat who most recently served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey.

The State Department said the Horn of Africa’s challenges “demand sustained focus by the United States.”

China’s envoy announcement came after Wang visited Eritrea, which neighbors Ethiopia and has been accused of some of the worst atrocities in the Tigray conflict. While there, Wang criticized recent U.S. sanctions against Eritrea’s military and ruling party over their role in the war.

Without naming countries, the Chinese foreign minister Thursday said conflicts in the Horn of Africa hamper the region’s “tremendous potential for development” and “such a situation should not be allowed to continue.”

He also urged Horn of Africa countries to “resolve various ethnic, religious and regional differences in an African way.”

China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has been blamed in part for blocking action on Ethiopia’s war that some other members have sought.

The war has killed an estimated tens of thousands of people and created a vast humanitarian crisis, with the Tigray region under a government blockade since late June.

Witnesses, lawyers and human rights groups have said ethnic Tigrayans have been detained by the thousands, while Ethiopia’s government says it is targeting people suspected of supporting the Tigray forces,

In neighboring Somalia, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government is under growing pressure as the country’s election nears a year of delay in February.