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Ethiopia rejects US report of 'ethnic cleansing' in Tigray

March 13, 2021

The US says Ethiopian forces are committing ethnic cleansing in the country's northern Tigray region, prompting a furious response from the government. The UN says it has evidence of serious human rights violations.

Ethiopian soldiers stand at a refugee camp
Ethiopia's foreign ministry has rejected the claims made by WashingtonImage: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Ethiopia's government on Saturday rejected accusations by the US that its military is guilty of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, a northern region close to Eritrea, where months of fighting have cost thousands of lives and displaced at least a million people.

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry branded accusations made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as "completely unfounded and spurious."

Washington's top diplomat said on Wednesday that he wanted government troops and outside security forces to be replaced by those who will not "commit acts of ethnic cleansing."

US demands human rights probe

Blinken also demanded an independent investigation into human rights abuses.

The Ethiopian government said it would "engage positively" with such a probe, but issued a furious response to the secretary of state's comments, which were given as part of his testimony to a US congressional committee. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Image: Ken Cedeno/Xinhua/picture alliance

"Nothing during or after the end of the main law enforcement operation in Tigray can be identified or defined by any standards as a targeted, intentional ethnic cleansing against anyone in the region," a Foreign Ministry statement read.

Until early March, the region had been off limits to most international media and observers, making it hard for journalists to verify what was happening on the ground.

How did the fighting start?

Ethiopia's government launched a military offensive in November against the former regional ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, said the military campaign was in response to an attack on a military base housing government troops in Tigray.

The TPLF said it had captured the bases as a preemptive strike as it feared federal intervention in Tigray.

Ethiopia is comprised of 10 semiautonomous federal states organized along ethnic lines. Violence between the regions has increased in recent years.

What has the UN said?

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last week that her office had evidence of human rights violations that could amount to "war crimes and crimes against humanity."

She said she had been identified several possible perpetrators, including the Ethiopian federal troops, the TPLF, Eritrean armed forces and other regional militias.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO, reported on March 5 that Eritrean soldiers have massacred scores of civilians, including children, in Tigray.

Both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have denied that Eritrea is involved in the fighting.

Tigrays rape survivors

jf/rs (AP, AFP, Reuters)