Biden speaks to Ethiopia’s Abiy, raises civilian deaths, arrests

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White House says the two leaders discussed the continuing conflict in Tigray and humanitarian access to the region.

United States President Joe Biden has spoken with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to discuss the continuing conflict in the country and raised concerns about detentions under the state of emergency, the White House said.

Biden also raised concerns about civilian deaths in recent air raids and reaffirmed US commitment to work alongside the African Union and other regional partners to help resolve the conflict, the White House said in a statement on Monday.

The US president commended Abiy on the recent release of several political prisoners, and the two leaders discussed ways to accelerate dialogue towards a negotiated ceasefire, the urgency of improving humanitarian access across Ethiopia, the White House said.

Abiy said on Twitter he had a “candid” conversation with Biden “on current issues in Ethiopia, bilateral relations as well as regional matters”.

Gov’t announces pardons

On Friday, the Ethiopian government announced the pardon of several leading members of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), whose forces have been locked in a brutal conflict with government forces in northern Ethiopia since November 2020, as well as prominent opposition leaders from the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups.

It was not immediately clear how many of those granted amnesty had been freed.

It was the most dramatic move yet by the government after the country’s deadly Tigray war entered a new phase in late December, when Tigray forces retreated into their region amid a military offensive and Ethiopian forces said they would not advance further there.

Ethiopia’s state broadcaster, EBC, named Jawar Mohammed and Eskinder Nega, who were detained in July 2020 following deadly unrest over the killing of popular ethnic Oromo artist Hachalu Hundessa, as those granted amnesty.

Eskinder, leader of the Balderas party, left a detention centre on Friday evening.

Meanwhile on Sunday, aid agencies suspended their work in part of the Tigray region after a deadly air attack on a camp for people displaced by the war, the United Nations emergency response agency said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that the attack in the town of Dedebit in northwestern Tigray had “caused scores of civilian casualties including deaths”, according to its preliminary information.

“Humanitarian partners suspended activities in the area due to the ongoing threats of drone strikes,” it said.

Aid workers and the TPLF said the attack had killed 56 people. It was not possible to independently verify the claims because access to war-hit Tigray is restricted and it remains under a communications blackout.

The Tigray region is one of the 10 semi-autonomous federal states organised along ethnic lines in Ethiopia, and home mostly to the Tigrayan people who make up about 6 percent of Ethiopia’s population of more than 110 million.

The continuing conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and been marked by a litany of abuses, including massacres and rape.

About 400,000 people are facing famine in Tigray, and millions need food aid across northern Ethiopia as a result of the war.





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