President Joe Biden is dispatching Sen. Chris Coons to Ethiopia t o meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to express the administration’s “grave concerns” about the growing humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement Thursday that Coons will also discuss the situation with African Union leaders. White House officials and Coons' office did not immediately provide further details of Coons’ travel to Addis Ababa.
Coons, a Democrat and longtime ally of Biden's, heads to Ethiopia as a long-running conflict in the Tigray region intensifies and the Biden administration steps up pressure on Abiy to withdraw troops from the northern region amid growing reports of war crimes.
“The United States is gravely concerned by the deteriorating situation in the Tigray, which threatens the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa region,” Coons said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday also announced the U.S. would provide an additional $52 million in assistance to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The United States has provided a total of nearly $153 million in humanitarian assistance since the crisis began. The U.S. estimates 4.5 million people in Tigray are in need of humanitarian assistance and nearly 62,000 refugees have fled to Sudan.
Blinken said last week that “ethnic cleansing” has happened in parts of Tigray, the first time a top official in the international community has openly described the acts in Tigray as such.
Blinken asserted that the U.S. is “seeing very credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities that are ongoing” in Tigray, a region in the north of Ethiopia that is the base of a party that dominated Ethiopian politics for decades before the rise of Abiy.
The Ethiopian government disputed Blinken's charges of ethnic cleansing as “a completely unfounded and spurious verdict against the Ethiopian government,” and accused Washington of “overblowing things out of proportion.”
The leaders of that party, known by its initials TPLF, are in hiding as federal forces and their allies — including fighters from Eritrea — hunt down fighters loyal to the local administration in Tigray.
Accounts of atrocities by Ethiopian and allied forces against residents of Tigray have been detailed in reports by The Associated Press and by Amnesty International. Ethiopia’s federal government and regional officials in Tigray both maintain that each other’s governments are illegitimate after the pandemic disrupted elections.
The conflict began in November when Abiy sent government troops into Tigray after an attack there on federal military facilities.
Associated Press writers Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed reporting.