United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met Ethiopia’s foreign minister in Addis Ababa, as both governments look to repair relations following friction over the two-year war in the Tigray region.
“There is a lot to be done. Probably the most important thing is to deepen the peace that has taken hold in the north,” Blinken told reporters after the meeting on Wednesday.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Blinken, who began his talks with Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen with a coffee ceremony, was also due to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and leaders of the Tigrayan forces that battled the federal government in the war in the northern region.
“We have longstanding relations and it is time to revitalise them and move forward,” Demeke said.
The US senior diplomat will head to the West African nation of Niger, which has been confronting armed groups, on Thursday.
Blinken’s trip is the latest in a series of visits to Africa by senior US officials as the administration of President Joe Biden looks to reinforce ties with countries on the continent amid competition from China and Russia.
The US was outspoken in its criticism of alleged atrocities by Ethiopian forces and their allies during the Tigray war, which killed tens of thousands of people before a peace accord was reached last November.
Washington imposed wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia and cut access to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a duty-free trade programme that has been a boon for the US textile sector.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation and a traditional US ally in East Africa, accused Washington of meddling in its internal affairs and threatened to reassess the bilateral relationship.
It has denied the most serious allegations of human rights violations during the war.
In a press briefing this week, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee said getting US relations with Ethiopia back to normal would require additional steps by the government to “break the cycle of ethnic political violence”.
Ethiopia is also looking to restructure its debt and secure an International Monetary Fund loan, which the state finance minister said last year was being delayed in part by the Tigray war.
While the peace deal has allowed humanitarian aid to flow into Tigray, needs remain immense after the conflict left hundreds of thousands facing starvation.
Allegations of abuses, especially sexual violence, have persisted after the deal was signed, according to rights groups and humanitarian workers in the region.
Troops from Eritrea remain in several border areas while militias from the neighbouring Amhara region occupy large areas of territory in contested parts of western and southern Tigray, humanitarian workers said.
Eritrea’s government spokesperson has not responded to requests for comment about the matter. A spokesperson for the Amhara regional government said it and the people of Amhara were “always ready to cooperate with peace deal process and activities”.