The United States on Saturday called for an end to hostilities and withdrawal of forces from the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is “gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region.”
“We strongly condemn the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organisations have reported in Tigray,” the American top diplomat said in a statement.
The remarks came a day after Amnesty International reported that more than 200 people had been killed by Eritrean troops in the historic Tigray city of Axum, describing the killings as a potential crime against humanity.
Since conflict broke out between Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and federal forces in early November, Asmara and Addis Ababa have repeatedly denied the involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticised Amnesty’s report terming it as “incomplete and inaccurate”. The ministry said the information was based on brief telephone calls from refugees who were former TPLF fighters.
Similarly, Eritrea downplayed the accusations saying the report was based on 31 individuals in Sudanese camps.
“Most of the people in this shelter are known to be TPLF fighters who took part in the Mai Kadra massacre in which hundreds of innocent people were killed,” Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebre-Meskel posted on Twitter.
The massacre was a series of ethnic cleansing and mass murders carried out November 9 and 10 last year, in the small town Mai Kadra in Tigray, near the Sudanese border.
The US Secretary of State called for an end of the crisis and stressed the need for independent and international probe into the alleged human rights abuses.
“The immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray are essential first steps,” said Mr Blinken.
“They should be accompanied by unilateral declarations of cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict and a commitment to permit unhindered delivery of assistance to those in Tigray.”
The US noted Ethiopia’s commitment, made in statements on February 26 by the Prime Minister’s office, to full accountability including allowing humanitarian access and international probe.
Washington called on the African Union and other international partners to help address the crisis, “including through action at the United Nations and other relevant bodies.”
“The United States is committed to working with the international community to achieve these goals. To that end, USAid will deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Ethiopia to continue delivering life-saving assistance.”
In a telephone call on Thursday, US President Joe Biden and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta discussed the Tigray crisis and the “need to prevent further loss of life and access to humanitarian assistance.”
The US sought Kenya’s leadership role in addressing conflicts in the Horn of Africa.
Ethiopia said it has so far provided humanitarian assistance to 3.1 million in 34 of 36 districts in Tigray.
The government added that it has granted permission to 135 international organisations and workers who applied to offer humanitarian assistance.