Biden dispatches US senator to Ethiopia over humanitarian crisis

Senator Coons to meet Ethiopia’s prime minister over allegations of ethnic cleansing in the Tigray region.

Senator Chris Coons will travel to Ethiopia as President Joe Biden's envoy, a White House official announced [File: Demetrius Freeman/Pool via Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden is sending Senator Chris Coons to Ethiopia to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and convey the president’s “grave concerns” over the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region, where thousands have died since the fighting began.

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a statement on Thursday that Coons – a longtime Biden ally – would also consult with the African Union.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken this month described acts carried out in the region as ethnic cleansing, an allegation rejected by Ethiopia.

“Senator Coons will convey President Biden’s grave concerns about the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa,” Sullivan said.

Coons said in a statement that he looked forward to engaging with Abiy and conveying Biden’s concern.

“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.

Meanwhile, Blinken said Thursday the US will provide another nearly $52 million in aid to address the humanitarian conflict, but called for an end to hostilities and for human rights abusers to be held accountable.

“A cessation of hostilities, the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces, and an end to the Ethiopian government’s deployment of Amhara regional forces in Tigray are essential first steps,” Blinken said in a statement. “There needs to be accountability for all those responsible for human rights abuses and atrocities, whether they be in the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces, Eritrea Defense Forces, or Amhara regional forces.”

Ethiopia’s federal army removed the regional government of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party from the capital Mekelle in November, after what it said was a surprise assault on its forces in the region bordering Eritrea.

The government has said the fighting has mostly ceased but has acknowledged there are still isolated incidents of shooting.

Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied the involvement of the Eritrean troops in the fighting alongside Ethiopian forces, although dozens of witnesses, diplomats and an Ethiopian general have reported their presence.

Thousands of people have died following the fighting, hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes and there are shortages of food, water and medicine in Tigray, a region of more than five million people.

Source: Reuters