US President Joe Biden has dispatched Senator Christopher Coons to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over the Tigray crisis.
Through a statement by White House on Thursday, “Senator Coons will convey President Biden’s grave concerns about the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa.”
He will also consult with the African Union on how to advance the region’s shared interests in peace and prosperity.
Senator Coons of Delaware is one of President Biden’s closest allies.
He is expected call for an end to the growing conflict in Ethiopia, which has killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands to Sudan and other neighbouring countries.
His trip comes after months of fighting in Tigray following Ethiopia’s military campaign to oust the former regional ruling party, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, in a conflict marked by widespread allegations of ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, and massacres of civilians.
Coons told Foreign Policy that he shares the administration’s concerns with the “deteriorating situation in the Tigray, which threatens the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa region.”
“I look forward to engaging with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and conveying the President’s concern,” he said.
US officials and regional experts warn that if left unchecked, the conflict could spiral into a full-blown regional crisis and cause knock-on destabilising effects in Ethiopia’s neighbouring countries, Foreign Policy said in a statement.
Just in: Statement from National Security Adviser @JakeSullivan46 on Sen. @ChrisCoons travel to Ethiopia.
"Senator Christopher Coons is traveling to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali at President Biden’s request." (confirming @RobbieGramer report) pic.twitter.com/SUj8LnXrMG
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) March 18, 2021
Human-rights groups have accused forces from neighbouring Eritrea of massacring hundreds of unarmed civilians in Tigray in November, shortly after the outbreak of the conflict. The US has called for their exit from Ethiopia, while Abiy denies they are involved.
The move by President Biden appears to be an escalation of his earlier call on the AU and Kenya to put pressure on Ethiopia to end the crisis in Tigray.
In a statement on February 27, Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked international partners, especially the African Union and regional partners, to put pressure to address the Tigray crisis in Ethiopia, including through action at the UN and other relevant institutions.
In early March, Blinken urged Kenya to work with the United States on the UN Security Council and in other venues to address the crisis in Tigray.
Soon after, Ethiopia President Sahle-Work Zewde paid a courtesy call on Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi.
State House communication team said, “The two leaders discussed several matters of mutual interest to Kenya, Ethiopia and the region”.
It also fired back at the US, accusing it of interfering with its internal affairs.
“… the attempt by the US to make pronouncements on Ethiopia’s internal affairs and specifically the reference to the Amhara regional forces redeployment is regrettable,” the statement by government Spokesman said.
“It should be clear that such matters are the sole responsibility of the Ethiopian government, which as a sovereign nation, is responsible to deploy the necessary security structures and means available in ensuring the rule of law within all corners of its borders,” it added.
It added that honouring international obligations and responsibilities should not be deemed by any entity as an invitation to dictate a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.
In a phone call with PM Abiy Ahmed on March 2, Blinken expressed the United States’ concern about the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Tigray.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the powerful Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for diplomacy and foreign-aid programs, is among those who have condemned the violence in Tigray.