Critical Ethiopian diplomat urges peace talks in Tigray war

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Critical Ethiopian diplomat urges peace talks in Tigray war

By ASSOCIATED PRESS, 19 March 2021

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – An Ethiopian diplomat who quit his post in the United States over concerns about atrocities in Tigray is calling for peace talks between the government and the embattled region’s fugitive leaders.

Berhane Kidanemariam served as the deputy chief of mission at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington until early March. In an interview with The Associated Press late Thursday, he warned that a protracted war in Tigray is devastating the region’s 6 million people. “We have to prioritize peaceful settlement and negotiation,” he said. “Without peaceful settlement and negotiation, peace couldn’t prevail. The only solution is peace talks.”Between 60,000 and 70,000 people are now believed to have died in the war since November, he said, citing information gleaned from sources inside Ethiopia. Most of the victims are “civilians, especially the youngsters,” he said.Ethiopian authorities have not given a death toll in the Tigray war.

Kidanemariam said that Tigrayan fighters “are getting better” in their defenses, increasing the likelihood of a long war in which reported abuses already include massacres, rapes, forced displacement, and the vandalism of priceless cultural sites.

People displaced by the recent conflict gather around water points provided by the International Rescue Committee at a makeshift camp for the displaced in Embadanso school in Shire, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. For months, one great unknown in Ethiopia\'s Tigray conflict has been the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in vast rural areas beyond the reach of outside aid, but now thousands who have been hiding there have begun arriving in a community that can barely support them. (International Rescue Committee via AP)

“Anything which the human beings can use” has been destroyed in some way, he said, describing the looting of everything from banks to churches and mosques. “It’s horrible even to explain it.”

Kidanemariam hails from the Tigray region, the base of a party that dominated national politics for decades before the rise of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. But he said his background had not influenced his decision to call it “a genocidal war.”

“I don´t need to be Tigrayan,” Kidanemariam said, referring to his March 10 resignation. “Seeing this kind of horrible, catastrophic war, I couldn´t tolerate it.”

The conflict began in November, when Abiy sent government troops into Tigray after an attack there on federal military facilities. Fighting persists even as Ethiopian authorities insist the situation there is returning to normal.

The Ethiopian prime minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to make peace with Eritrea, now faces pressure to end the war as well as to institute an international investigation into alleged war crimes, ideally led by the United Nations. The government´s critics say an ongoing federal probe simply isn´t enough because the government can´t effectively investigate itself.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman in Geneva for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, said Ethiopia´s Human Rights Commission had asked to participate with her office in “a joint investigation into allegations of serious human rights violations by all sides” in Tigray.

“We have responded positively to that request, and are currently elaborating plans for this joint investigation,” Colville said in an e-mail.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier in March that some atrocities in Tigray amount to “ethnic cleansing.”

Eritrean troops as well as fighters from Amhara, an Ethiopian region bordering Tigray, “need to come out” of Tigray, Blinken said, adding that the region needs “a force that will not abuse the human rights of the people of Tigray or commit acts of ethnic cleansing, which we´ve seen in western Tigray. That has to stop.”

Ethiopia’s government, which strongly denies civilians are deliberately targeted, called Blinken’s assertion unfounded.

President Joe Biden is dispatching Sen. Chris Coons to Ethiopia to express the administration´s “grave concerns” about the growing humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in Tigray, and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said in a statement Thursday.

The statement said Coons will also discuss the situation with African Union leaders but gave no details about Coons´ travel.

The humanitarian situation in Tigray remains “extremely concerning, with conflict continuing to drive displacements of people and reports of some villages completely emptied,” according to the latest U.N. humanitarian assessment.

Humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people might be starving to death in Tigray. The fighting erupted on the brink of harvest in the largely agricultural region and sent an untold number of people fleeing their homes. Witnesses have described widespread looting by Eritrean soldiers as well as the burning of crops. Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

People displaced by the recent conflict live in crowded conditions at a makeshift camp for the displaced in a derelict building of the Shire campus of Axum University, in Shire, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. For months, one great unknown in Ethiopia\'s Tigray conflict has been the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in vast rural areas beyond the reach of outside aid, but now thousands who have been hiding there have begun arriving in a community that can barely support them. (International Rescue Committee via AP)

Supporters of Tigray Regional Government shout slogans against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a protest outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Friday, March 12, 2021. Protesters demanded the help of the EU to end the conflict in Ethiopia\'s Tigray region. (AP Photo\/Francisco Seco)

In this photo released by Medecins Sans Frontieres, anti-Tigrayan graffiti is scrawled on the walls of a vandalized room in a health center in Debre Abay, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, in this undated photo taken in 2021. Health facilities in Ethiopia\'s embattled region of Tigray have been \"looted, vandalized and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on health care,\" the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Monday, March 15, 2021. Writing in Amharic on wall reads \"Now we have handed you (the Tigrayan people) over to \"Shabia\" (the Eritrean ruling party or military forces) and they can eat you after roasting you like a grill.\" (Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP)

People displaced by the recent conflict live in crowded conditions at a makeshift camp for the displaced in a derelict building of the Shire campus of Axum University, in Shire, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. For months, one great unknown in Ethiopia\'s Tigray conflict has been the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in vast rural areas beyond the reach of outside aid, but now thousands who have been hiding there have begun arriving in a community that can barely support them. (International Rescue Committee via AP)

A priest, who did not wish to be identified, and said he was captured after trying to flee recent conflict and put in prison for two months and his best friend shot on the journey, sits with his Ethiopian Orthodox cross after arriving at a makeshift camp for displaced people in Shire, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. For months, one great unknown in Ethiopia\'s Tigray conflict has been the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in vast rural areas beyond the reach of outside aid, but now thousands who have been hiding there have begun arriving in a community that can barely support them. (Third Party via AP)

A displaced woman and child leave a room where she and others displaced by the recent conflict are living in cramped conditions, at the Embadanso school in Shire, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. For months, one great unknown in Ethiopia\'s Tigray conflict has been the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in vast rural areas beyond the reach of outside aid, but now thousands who have been hiding there have begun arriving in a community that can barely support them. (International Rescue Committee via AP)

In this photo released by Medecins Sans Frontieres, a damaged operating theater is seen through broken glass at a hospital in Sheraro, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, in this undated photo taken in 2021. Health facilities in Ethiopia\'s embattled region of Tigray have been \"looted, vandalized and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on health care,\" the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Monday, March 15, 2021. (Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP)
In this photo released by Medecins Sans Frontieres, a damaged operating theater is seen through broken glass at a hospital in Sheraro, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, in this undated photo taken in 2021. Health facilities in Ethiopia’s embattled region of Tigray have been “looted, vandalized and destroyed in a deliberate and widespread attack on health care,” the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said Monday, March 15, 2021. (Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP)
A supporter of Tigray Regional Government shout slogans against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a protest outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Friday, March 12, 2021. Protesters demanded the help of the EU to end the conflict in Ethiopia\'s Tigray region. (AP Photo\/Francisco Seco)

A supporter of Tigray Regional Government shout slogans against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a protest outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Friday, March 12, 2021. Protesters demanded the help of the EU to end the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

People displaced by the recent conflict live in crowded conditions at a makeshift camp for the displaced in a derelict building of the Shire campus of Axum University, in Shire, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. For months, one great unknown in Ethiopia\'s Tigray conflict has been the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in vast rural areas beyond the reach of outside aid, but now thousands who have been hiding there have begun arriving in a community that can barely support them. (International Rescue Committee via AP)

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