IMF says it is engaging with Ethiopia but not holding talks on loan program

WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it was continuing to engage on a technical basis with Ethiopia despite a worsening conflict in the country, but given uncertainty, it has not begun discussions on a potential IMF financing program.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told a news briefing that the Fund is watching developments closely in Ethiopia, as well as in Sudan. It is too soon to tell how political developments related to a late October coup will affect Sudan's request for debt relief and potential IMF disbursements in 2022, Rice said.

African and Western nations called on Thursday for an immediate ceasefire in Ethiopia after Tigrayan forces from the country's north made advances towards the capital, Addis Ababa, as a U.S. special envoy arrived to press for a halt to military operations.

Ethiopia has asked the IMF for a new loan program as France and China have convened a creditor committee to try to rework Ethiopia's nearly $30 billion in external debt. The IMF in December 2019 had approved credit facilities for $2.9 billion but has yet to make any disbursements.

Rice said the IMF welcomed the formation of the creditor committee and was providing technical support.

"Given the heightened uncertainty on the ground and its impact on the macro economy amid significant donor support, it's difficult to move to program discussions at this stage. But we stand ready to engage when the timing is right," he said.

Rice said the IMF would continue to engage with Ethiopian authorities on policy advice and technical assistance.

"Like everyone else, we are watching developments of the situation in Ethiopia with concern and continue to monitor that."

Regarding Sudan, Rice said it was too early to tell if the military coup would affect debt relief under the IMF-World Bank Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative, which was approved for Sudan in June.

A review for a disbursement under a new IMF program is not expected until the end of March 2022, and it's "too early to tell" if the country's political situation would affect these initiatives, Rice said.

Rice also confirmed that talks with Zambia on a new Extended Fund Facility arrangement were set to begin on Thursday, which would require a debt restructuring package and assurances from the country's creditors.

Reporting by David Lawder and Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O'Brien

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