Ethiopia won’t use force to attain direct access to a Red Sea port, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said, toning down previous remarks directed at the landlocked Horn of Africa nation’s neighbors. 

“Recently, when Ethiopia expressed the need for discussions on some issues, we are hearing concerns that Ethiopia could do invasions,” Abiy told a ceremony in Addis Ababa on Thursday to mark the country’s National Army Day. “We don’t have a plan to achieve our objectives through force and I want to assure you that we won’t pull a trigger on our brothers.”

In a televised lecture earlier this month, Abiy identified access to the ocean as a strategic objective and warned that failure to secure it could lead to conflict. His remarks drew rebukes from Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti, all of whom described their sovereignty and territorial integrity as sacrosanct and not open for discussion.

Abiy’s position on the Red Sea raised concerns among diplomats of fresh regional instability with Ethiopia already struggling to quell widespread domestic dissent, particularly in the northern Amhara region where militias are resisting efforts to incorporate them in the federal army.

His administration also is in talks to restructure debt after its finances took a hit from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a two-year civil war with the government in the northern Tigray region.

“Further instability in the Horn of Africa is in no-one’s interest,” a US State Department spokesperson said by email. “Disputes must be resolved through dialog, and both Ethiopia and Eritrea must avoid provocation.”