Biden Calls Ethiopian PM, Raises Concerns over Tigray Airstrikes

U.S. President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday, voiced concerns about airstrikes in northern Ethiopia and human rights issues, The White House has said.

There have been thousands of deaths and millions of displacements since war broke out between Abiy’s federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020.

Abiy tweeted that he and Biden had a candid conversation about strengthening cooperation.

“President Biden expressed concern that the ongoing hostilities, including recent airstrikes, continue to cause civilian casualties and suffering,” the White House said in a statement after the two leaders spoke.

56 people were killed and 30 others injured in an airstrike in Tigray on Saturday, according to two aid workers. 

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Aid organizations have suspended their operations in northwest Tigray, the United Nations agency for humanitarian affairs announced on Sunday, citing an ongoing risk of drone strikes.

According to the White House, Biden and Abiy also talked about “addressing the human rights concerns of Ethiopians affected by the state of emergency, including concerns about detentions of Ethiopians.”

Concerns have been raised by human rights groups and the United Nations about large-scale detentions of Tigrayans. The government of Abiy has denied that ethnically motivated detentions have been taking place.

The appointment of Abiy as prime minister in 2018 ended almost three decades of dominance of Ethiopia’s ruling coalition by the TPLF, originally a rebel group that came to power in 1991.

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TPLF leaders say Abiy wants to end the ethno-based federal government system they created; Abiy says the TPLF is eager to regain national power. Both sides reject the other’s narrative.

According to the White House, Biden commended Abiy for freeing several political prisoners recently.

The Ethiopian state broadcaster announced Friday that a number of opposition leaders had been released from prison, as the government announced that it would engage in dialogue with political opponents.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, is a major power in the Horn of Africa. The United States has long partnered with Ethiopia to try to contain Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia.

But relations have become more tense since the Tigray conflict broke out. Ethiopia previously accused Washington of meddling in its internal affairs. read more

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The United States recently cut Ethiopia from access to a duty-free trade programme, following through on Biden’s threat to do so over alleged human rights violations in Tigray.

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