Opinion: A key U.S. ally in Africa is massacring civilians. Can Biden stop it?

Eritrea Ethiopia Tigray

(Source: Washington Post) – 

People mourn the victims of a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers in Ethiopia’s Tigray region last Friday.
March 3, 2021 at 6:27 p.m. GMT

ETHIOPIA IS emerging as a major test of the Biden administration’s commitment to a foreign policy grounded in human rights. Since the federal governmentdispatched troops to the rebellious region of Tigray in November, there have been scattered reports of atrocities as well as warnings by aid groups of a humanitarian crisis due to the interruption of food deliveries. Then last week camedisturbing new reports of massacres by troops from neighboring Eritrea of hundreds of civilians and of ethnic cleansing by militias.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded with a strong public statement Saturday condemning “extremely serious human rights violations” and calling for a cessation of hostilities and withdrawal from Tigray of Eritrean and Amhara militia forces, both of which are allied with the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. On Tuesday, Mr. Blinken followed up with a phone call to Mr. Abiy and another tough statement. But Ethiopia, a U.S. military ally and major aid recipient, does not appear inclined to listen. On Sunday, the foreign ministry issued a statement rejecting the call for a withdrawal of forces and saying it was “regrettable” for the United States “to make pronouncements on Ethiopia’s internal affairs.”

That puts the Biden administration in a difficult position. Ethiopia has been a partner to the United States in fighting terrorism in Somalia. Until recently, Mr. Abiy was regarded as a progressive leader: He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with Eritrea and had promised democratic elections. He was already at odds with Washington thanks to former president Donald Trump’s foolish decision to suspend U.S. aid because of a dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over a dam that Ethiopia is building.

The new administration nevertheless cannot ignore the mounting reports of war crimes or the warnings from aid groups that famine could spread in Tigray if access for aid deliveries and workers does not improve. Amnesty International reported last Thursday that Eritrean troops “went on a rampage” in the historic town of Axum and “systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood.” On Friday, the New York Times reportedthat an internal U.S. government report said Amhara militias in western Tigray were systematically driving out Tigrayan people and “whole villages were severely damaged or completely erased.”

Perhaps Mr. Abiy will respond positively to Mr. Blinken’s latest appeal, in which he offered U.S. aid in resolving the conflict. On Friday, Mr. Abiy’s office said it would allow an international investigation into atrocities and access for aid. If his government does not do so, and end hostilities, the United States must join with allies in stepping up pressure. The European Union has already suspended $110 million in aid. While the State Department said last month it had “de-linked” $272 million in U.S. aid from the dam issue, it has not yet resumed it. The department should not do so until U.S. priorities on Tigray are met — and it should be prepared to apply sanctions to those involved in atrocities or in impeding aid deliveries.

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