‘Gravely concerned’ Biden sends special envoy to Ethiopia

The situation in the Tigray “threatens the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa region,” Senator Chris Coons said in a statement.
Sunday 21/03/2021
US Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., speaks during a news conference with fellow Democrats, Oct. 22, 2020, at the Capitol in Washington. (AFP)
US Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., speaks during a news conference with fellow Democrats, Oct. 22, 2020, at the Capitol in Washington. (AFP)

WASHINGTON--President Joe Biden is dispatching Senator Chris Coons to Ethiopia to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to express the administration’s “grave concerns” at the growing humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday that Coons will also discuss the situation with African Union leaders. White House officials and Coons’ office did not immediately provide further details of Coons’ travel to Addis Ababa.

The senator, a Democrat and longtime Biden ally, heads to Ethiopia amid growing reports of war crimes, as the enduring conflict in the Tigray region intensifies and the White House steps up pressure on Abiy to withdraw troops from the northern region.

“The United States is gravely concerned by the deteriorating situation in the Tigray, which threatens the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa region,” Coons said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday also announced the US  would provide an additional $52 million in assistance to respond to the local humanitarian disaster. Since the crisis began, the United States has already provided nearly $153 million in humanitarian aid. Washington estimates 4.5 million people in Tigray are in need of humanitarian assistance and nearly 62,000 refugees have fled to Sudan.

Blinken said last week that “ethnic cleansing” has taken place in parts of Tigray, the first time a top official in the international community has openly described the acts in Tigray as such.

Blinken asserted that the US  is “seeing very credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities that are ongoing” in Tigray, a region in the north of Ethiopia that is the base of a party that dominated Ethiopian politics for decades before the rise of Abiy.

The Ethiopian government dismissed Blinken’s ethnic cleansing charges as “a completely unfounded and spurious verdict against the Ethiopian government.”  It accused Washington of “overblowing things out of proportion.”

The leaders the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) are in hiding as federal forces and their allies — including fighters from Eritrea — hunt down fighters loyal to the local administration in Tigray.

Accounts of atrocities by Ethiopian and allied forces against locals have been detailed in reports by The Associated Press and by Amnesty International.

Ethiopia’s federal government and regional officials in Tigray both maintain that each other’s administrations are illegitimate because the pandemic disrupted scheduled elections.

The conflict broke out last November when Abiy sent government troops into Tigray after an attack there on federal military facilities.