Stop ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Tigray, US tells Ethiopian PM, condemns killings

A member of the Amhara Special Forces looks on at a border crossing in Humera, Ethiopia, on Nov. 22, 2020. EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described the violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as “ethnic cleansing.”

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken

But authorities in Ethiopia’s Amhara region on Thursday rejected the accusations and called them “propaganda” statements.

Earlier this week, Tigrayan officials accused forces from neighbouring Amhara of kicking thousands of people off land in western Tigray — a part of the region that ethnic Amharas claim rightfully belongs to them. Testifying before Congress Wednesday, Blinken pressed for a probe and the exit of Eritrean troops.

Blinken said “acts of ethnic cleansing” had been committed in western Tigray, calling for them to “stop” and for “full accountability.”

In an interview with AFP Thursday, Amhara spokesman Gizachew Muluneh dismissed reports of ethnic cleansing and large-scale displacement as “propaganda”.

“A few Tigrayans may be displaced, a few in number,” he said.

“If the Secretary [Blinken] is talking about these areas, these areas are not Tigrayan. Our forces are not in the Tigrayan areas, rather our forces are in Amhara region. That is our response.”

Ethiopia is made up of 10 semi-autonomous federal states organised along ethnic lines, and ethnic violence has soared in recent years.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military campaign in Tigray in November after blaming the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for attacks on army camps.

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Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, leaned on forces from Amhara to secure western and southern Tigray once the TPLF retreated from those areas, and Amhara officials set up transitional administrations in multiple cities and towns.

An AFP journalist recently visited the village of Dengolat where residents recounted a massacre by troops wearing military uniforms and speaking an Eritrean dialect of the Tigrinya language.

“I very much understand the concerns, for example, that the prime minister had about the TPLF and its actions, but the situation in Tigray today is unacceptable and has to change,” Blinken said.

“We have, as you know, forces from Eritrea over there, and we have forces from an adjoining region, Amhara, that are there. They need to come out.”