U.S. calls on African Union to exert pressure over worsening crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday called on the African Union and other international partners to help tackle a worsening crisis in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia as he condemned alleged atrocities during fighting there.
Blinken's testimony pointed to growing frustration with the previous response in Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea to what America's top diplomat described as "a deepening humanitarian crisis".
His remarks came a day after Amnesty International released a report accusing Eritrean forces of killing hundreds of civilians in Tigray within 24 hours last year. This incident has been described as a potential crime against humanity.
Eritrea denied the allegations.
"The United States is deeply concerned about the reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia," said Blinken.
"We ask international partners, particularly the African Union and regional partners, to work with us to address the crisis in Tigray, including through action with the United States and other relevant agencies."
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's federal army ousted the former local ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), from the regional capital Mekelle in November, but lower-level fighting continued.
Thousands of people have died, hundreds of thousands have been evicted from their homes, and the area of more than 5 million people is suffering from food, water and medicine shortages.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied that Eritrean troops participated in the conflict, despite dozens of witnesses, diplomats and an Ethiopian general reporting their presence.
Nonetheless, the Ethiopian state human rights commission issued a statement on Friday that coincided with the amnesty report. Preliminary investigations revealed that Eritrean soldiers had killed an unknown number of civilians in Axum, an ancient city in northern Ethiopia. The killings were said to be in retaliation for an earlier attack by TPLF soldiers.
Amnesty said Eritrean soldiers executed men and boys on the street and carried out extensive looting.
Blinken noted that Ethiopia has committed itself to full accountability, including international support for investigations into human rights violations and enabling unhindered humanitarian access.
"The immediate withdrawal of the Eritrean armed forces and the regional Amhara forces from Tigray are essential first steps," said Blinken.
"They should be accompanied by unilateral declarations of a cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict and a commitment to provide unhindered aid to those in Tigray."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by William Mallard)
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