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Blinken condemns ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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Women gather to mourn the victims of a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers in the village of Dengolat in Ethiopia's Tigray region in February 2021./AFP
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Mar 11, 2021 - 10:32 AM

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday described violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as “ethnic cleansing” as he pressed for a prompt investigation, aid and the exit of Eritrean troops.

Testifying before Congress, Blinken said he wanted to see security forces “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.”

“That has to stop. We also need full accountability,” Blinken said in response to a question at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We need to get an independent investigation into what took place there, and we need some kind of process — a reconciliation process — so that the country can move forward politically.”

Multiple reports have implicated troops from neighboring Eritrea in mass killings in the northern Ethiopian region.

An AFP journalist recently visited the village of Dengolat where residents recounted a massacre by troops wearing military uniforms and speaking an Eritrean dialect of the Tigrinya language.

Amnesty International has said that Eritrean troops massacred hundreds of people in Tigray, with the UN human rights office saying it has corroborated information and wants Ethiopia to allow a probe.

Blinken’s remarks confirm the substance of a New York Times report last month that said that an internal US government report determined there was “ethnic cleansing” in western Tigray.

The report, according to the newspaper, said that entire villages had disappeared in an effort to make western Tigray “ethnically homogeneous through the organized use of force and intimidation.”

US to step up effort 

Blinken has previously voiced concerns directly to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and told the committee that he hoped “in the coming weeks” to appoint a special official to tackle the situation.

The Horn of Africa pointman would address the crisis in Tigray as well as separate issues including Ethiopia’s feud with Egypt and Sudan over construction of the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Blinken said.

Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his reconciliation efforts, launched a military campaign in November after blaming the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, for attacks on army camps.

Blinken said he understood Abiy’s concerns about the episode but that the situation in Tigray “is unacceptable and has to change.”

“Prime Minister Abiy was an inspiring leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he needs to step up and make sure that his own people in Tigray are getting the protections that they need and deserve,” Blinken said.

The United Nations has confirmed the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray despite denials from the governments in both Addis Ababa and Asmara, Ethiopia’s former rival.

“We have, as you know, forces from Eritrea over there, and we have forces from an adjoining region, Amhara, that are there. They need to come out,” Blinken said.

Abiy’s government says that major operations have stopped in Tigray and that life is returning to normal, but UN officials fear for a humanitarian catastrophe and estimate that 4.5 million people need assistance.

Ethiopia’s deputy chief of mission at its embassy in Washington, Berhane Kidanemariam, resigned Wednesday in protest over what he called a “genocidal war” in Tigray.

In an open letter, he said he was protesting “all the oppression and destruction the government is inflicting on the rest of Ethiopia.”

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