During a call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday, United States President Joe Biden raised concerns about the continuing conflict north of the country, about detentions under the state of emergency and about human rights issues, the White House said.
Biden also raised concerns about civilian deaths in recent air raids and reaffirmed US commitment to work alongside the African Union and other regional partners to help resolve the conflict, the White House said in a statement on Monday.
Thousands have died and millions have been displaced since war broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in November 2020 between Abiy’s federal forces, backed by regional allies, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that governs the region.
The US president applauded Abiy on the recent release of several political prisoners.
Ethiopia’s state broadcaster, EBC, named Jawar Mohammed and Eskinder Nega, who were detained in July 2020 following deadly unrest over the killing of popular ethnic Oromo artist Hachalu Hundessa, as those granted amnesty.
Abiy said on Twitter he had a “candid” conversation with Biden “on current issues in Ethiopia, bilateral relations as well as regional matters”, while a senior U.S. administration official said the call was business-like and focused on issues.
“President Biden expressed concern that the ongoing hostilities, including recent air strikes, continue to cause civilian casualties and suffering,” the White House said in a statement after the two leaders spoke.
The two leaders discussed ways to accelerate dialogue towards a negotiated ceasefire, the urgency of improving humanitarian access across Ethiopia, the White House said.
On Sunday, humanitarian agencies halted their work in part of the Tigray region, citing an ongoing threat of drone strikes, the United Nations emergency response agency said.
An air strike in Tigray killed 56 people in a camp for people displaced by the war and injured 30, including children, aid workers said, Saturday.
A senior U.S. administration official said Abiy has been sending more positive signals in recent days, but warned it is hard to know how long the constructive phase will last.
The U.S. official said Biden told Abiy where the United States wants to continue to see progress, including stopping air strikes, expanding humanitarian access to all regions of the country and engaging in ceasefire talks.
“We do see this as a moment of opportunity, if the parties are willing and able to seize it. That remains to be seen and this window won’t be open forever,” said the official.
Recently, the United States cut Ethiopia from access to a duty-free trade programme, following through on Biden’s threat to do so over alleged human rights violations in Tigray.
The continuing conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and been marked by a litany of abuses, including massacres and rape.
About 400,000 people are facing famine in Tigray, and millions need food aid across northern Ethiopia as a result of the war.