Ethiopia needs to make more progress implementing a peace agreement with its northern Tigray region before relations with the US are normalized, visiting Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, March 15.
Speaking in Addis Ababa, Blinken said Ethiopia must ensure “there are no ongoing gross violations of human rights” and establish an “inclusive and credible” transitional justice process after the two-year Tigray conflict.
“Then our own ability to move forward on our engagement with Ethiopia, to include economic engagement, will also move forward,” Blinken said after meeting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and others.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the Tigray conflict before the peace agreement was signed in November. Communications, banking and other basic services in the region of more than 5 million people were cut off and recently began to resume.
Out of concern for massacres, gang rapes and other abuses committed by all sides in the fighting, the US imposed sanctions, restricted economic support to Ethiopia and suspended the country’s membership in the African Growth and Opportunities Act, a preferential trade pact.
Ethiopia, facing a post-conflict reconstruction bill of $20 billion, is eager to see economic and other assistance from the US and others return, but there are concerns about how the government will address the widespread human rights abuses. The government has objected to a United Nations commission of inquiry and seeks to block its funding.
“There’s a lot to be done,” Blinken told Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen. “But the most important thing is to keep the peace that has now taken hold in the north and to strengthen our ties as we move along.”
Blinken also met with representatives from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and announced $331 million in new humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia.
Humanitarian organizations now returning to Tigray report hunger and lack of medical supplies, with many health centers damaged or destroyed. But the implementation of the peace deal has seen “significant movement in the right direction,” Blinken said.
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A major challenge is the presence of troops from neighboring Eritrea, which was allied with Ethiopia’s government in the conflict and was not a party to the agreement. Observers have said the Eritreans have pulled back to border areas.
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Ethiopian officials and Blinken also discussed a dispute with downstream Egypt over Ethiopia’s completion of Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam, according to the government. Blinken is on a four-day trip to Africa that also includes Niger. He is due to visit the African Union, based in Ethiopia, on Thursday.