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Biden, Ethiopia PM Abiy discuss Tigray conflict

January 10, 2022

The US president raised concerns about recent military escalations, civilian deaths and detentions in an ongoing conflict between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan fighters. Abiy described the call as "candid."

 Abiy Ahmed speaks at a campaign event, June 2021
Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed has presided over an intensified campaign against Tigrayan fightersImage: Mulugeta Ayene/AP Photo/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden spoke with embattled Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about the ongoing conflict in the African country and the effect it is having on regional security, the White House said Monday. 

The conflict between Abiy's government forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) from the northern Tigray region has worsened considerably after entering its second year. Thousands have died and millions have been displaced since the conflict began in November 2020. 

During Monday's call, Biden also voiced concern about increasing numbers of civilian deaths as a result of recent airstrikes carried out by Ethiopian forces alongside regional allies backed by neighboring Eritrea.

In late December 2021, UN observers say dozens of civilians were killed in what it called the most "intense series of air attacks" in months.

In January, airstrikes targeting refugee and displaced persons camps are said to have killed nearly 60 people, including children. International aid agencies have condemned the escalation. On Sunday, the UN said, "the intensification of airstrikes is alarming."

Doctors in the Tigray region also sounded the alarm last week, warning the world that people were dying as the result of blockades of humanitarian and medical supply deliveries.  

US seeks negotiated end to conflict 

"I held a candid phone conversation with ‪@POTUS on current issues in Ethiopia, bilateral relations as well as regional matters. We both agree there is great value in strengthening our cooperation through constructive engagement founded on mutual respect," wrote Abiy on Twitter after the call.

The White House said in a statement that the two leaders "discussed ways to accelerate dialogue toward a negotiated ceasefire, the urgency of improving humanitarian access across Ethiopia, and the need to address the human rights concerns."

Biden added that he was concerned by the high number of detentions being carried out under Ethiopia's state of emergency. However, the US president commended Abiy on the recent release of several political prisoners, the White House said.

In an effort to pressure the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Abiy, Biden last year cut Ethiopia's access to duty-free trade because of human rights abuses carried out in Tigray.

In November, the US applied sanctions on neighboring Eritrea's military as well as a number of Eritrean individuals involved in the conflict.

Humanitarian crisis unfolds in Ethiopia

js/wmr (AFP, Reuters)