WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday pressed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to end hostilities in the northern Tigray region, citing a “growing number of credible reports of atrocities and human rights violations and abuses.”
In a statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken pressed Abiy in a phone call to withdraw outside forces from Tigray, including troops from Ethiopia’s Amhara region and from Eritrea, and for an immediate end to violence.
The United Nations Security Council is likely to discuss the situation in Tigray in a closed-door meeting later this week, diplomats said. The United States is president of the 15-member council for March.
The six-week-old Biden administration is seeking an end to hostilities in Tigray and what it describes as a deepening humanitarian crisis. It was the second time in less than a week that Blinken has cited reports of atrocities in the region.
“The secretary urged the Ethiopian government to take immediate, concrete steps to protect civilians, including refugees, and to prevent further violence,” Price said in the statement.
Speaking to reporters, Price said: “We strongly condemn the killings, the forced removals and displacement, the sexual assaults, and other human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations, have, now reported.”
Blinken also asked that Abiy allow credible independent international investigations.
Abiy’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, referred Reuters to a Feb. 28 statement in which Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs called U.S. attempts to intervene in its internal affairs “regrettable”.
Ethiopia’s government takes its responsibility for the safety, security, and well-being of all citizens “very seriously” and is “fully committed to undertake thorough investigations” into alleged abuses and bring perpetrators to justice, that statement said. But it added the government had a duty to hold the nation together in the face of “treasonous and divisive forces.”
Ethiopia’s military ousted the former local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), from the regional capital Mekelle in November, after what it described as a surprise assault on its forces in Tigray.
Thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands have been forced from homes and there are shortages of food, water and medicine around the region of more than 5 million people.
The government has said that most fighting has stopped in Tigray but has acknowledged isolated incidents of shooting.
Both sides deny their forces have committed atrocities, and blame other forces for the killing of civilians.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied the involvement of Eritrean troops in the conflict alongside Ethiopian forces, although dozens of witnesses, diplomats and an Ethiopian general have reported their presence.
Blinken voiced grave concern about reports of atrocities in Tigray on Saturday, when he called on the African Union and other international partners to work with the United States to address the crisis.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis; Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller)