US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has condemned acts of “ethnic cleansing” in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, as he called for “full accountability” and the departure of troops from neighbouring Eritrea and other fighters.
Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, Blinken said he wanted security forces in the region “that will not abuse the human rights of the people of Tigray, or commit acts of ethnic cleansing which we’ve seen in western Tigray”.
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Citing “very credible” reports of ongoing human rights abuses and atrocities, he called for “an independent investigation into what took place there” and “a reconciliation process so that the country can move forward politically”.
“We have, as you know, forces from Eritrea over there, and we have forces from an adjoining [Ethiopian] region, Amhara, that are there. They need to come out.”
After months of tensions, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in early November announced military operations against the region’s then-governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), accusing them of attacking federal army camps.
Multiple reports quoting witnesses and survivors have implicated troops from neighbouring Eritrea, which denies a military presence, in mass killings, rapes and other crimes in the northern Ethiopian region.
The United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet, meanwhile, said last week her office has corroborated grave violations that could amount to “war crimes and crimes against humanity”, while humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people might be starving to death in Tigray.
“I very much understand the concerns, for example, that the prime minister had about the TPLF and its actions, but the situation in Tigray today is unacceptable and has to change,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s comments came hours after Berhane Kidanemariam, the deputy chief of mission at the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, DC, quit from his position, accusing Abiy of leading Ethiopia “down a dark path towards destruction and disintegration”.
“I resign from my post in protest of the genocidal war in Tigray, and in protest of all the repression and destruction the government is inflicting on the rest of Ethiopia,” he said.
“I have loved serving as a diplomat for my country but I cannot do so at the expense of my values, and certainly not at the expense of my people. There is a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them,” said Kidanemariam, who is believed to be the first Ethiopian diplomat to resign over concerns relating to the conflict in Tigray.
He also accused the government of misrepresenting conditions on the ground and failing to come clean about “the presence of foreign powers” – a reference to Eritrean troops.
The resignation of a senior diplomat will pile pressure on Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to make peace with Eritrea after decades of hostilities.
Kidanemariam, who is from Tigray, said in his statement thousands of ethnic Tigrayans have been harassed, assaulted and arrested in what he called “a witch-hunt that is taking place against Tigrayans in Ethiopia and in the diaspora”.
There was no immediate comment by the Ethiopian government.
In a statement delivered on Tuesday to an African Union council, Abiy said the Ethiopian government had taken “concrete steps to address alleged human rights abuses” and has signalled “its willingness to collaborate with relevant UN agencies for the purposes of these investigations”.