Biden concerned about escalating violence in Ethiopia, worries about civilians

U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday said he was concerned about the escalating violence in Ethiopia.

In a call with the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, President-elect Biden added that he was worried about civilians in the Tigray region, where a regional conflict exploded on November 4.

Biden and Guterres discussed the need for a strengthened partnership between the United States and the United Nations on urgent global issues, including combatting COVID-19 and building resilience to future public health challenges; confronting the threat of climate change; addressing humanitarian need; advancing sustainable development; upholding peace and security and resolving conflicts; and promoting democracy and human rights.

Since November 4, the Ethiopian military has been fighting the armed wing of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern region of Tigray, which borders Eritrea and Sudan.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accuses Tigrayan leaders of attacking federal troops at a base in Tigray on November 4. The TPLF argues that the attack was a pre-emptive strike. TPLF adds that the government has been preparing for the war for about two years.

The Prime Minister of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia H.E. Mr. Abiy Ahmed arrives in Sochi to take part in the Russia–Africa Summit in October 2019 Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS

The Tigray conflict has left thousands of civilians and security forces dead, according to the International Crisis Group. More than 40,000 civilians are said to have fled to neighboring Sudan. Now, fear is growing that with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, resisting calls for dialogue, especially from the African Union, Ethiopia’s internal conflict could spread beyond its borders.

On Saturday, after about three weeks of war, beginning on November 4, Prime Minister Abiy announced that the army had captured Mekelle, the capital of the northern Tigray region.

“We’ve been able to enter Mekelle city without innocent civilian being targets,” Abiy was quoted by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) as saying, before posting a statement on Twitter saying “the Federal government is in full control of the city of Mekelle.” Abiy added that the army would begin to locate Tigray’s leaders and arrest them.

The Ethiopian PM said the task ahead was that of “rebuilding what has been destroyed”, adding that the “utmost priority” was that “of returning normalcy to the people of the Tigray region.”

He said police were searching for the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

However, fighting has continued and there did not seem to be any solution in sight.

On Monday, multiple reports quoted Debretsion Gebremichael, who leads the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), as saying that his fighters had retaken another city, and that fighting near the regional capital, Mekelle, was still on.

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Debretsion Gebremichael leads the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)

The government insisted that TPLF had been crushed, with Abiy telling parliament on Monday that not a single civilian had been killed by government forces since the offensive was launched on November 4.

But, human rights groups and media said they were unable to verify those claims because the phone lines and the internet remained cut off.

The European parliament in its resolution of November 26, 2020, on the situation in Ethiopia, said it was “deeply concerned about the de facto communications blackout in the northern Tigray region.”

The EU parliament urged “the Ethiopian Government to restore all forms of communication to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region and to allow free communication among the people of Tigray.”

It stressed “the importance of, and the need for, access to information both online and offline, as the right of all people to be informed and to access information.”

The EU said independent reporting on the situation should be allowed, and urged the Abiy government to immediately grant independent media access to Tigray and to fully respect the freedoms of expression, association and of the press, as provided for in the Ethiopian Constitution.

The EU parliament also called on the Abiy government to release unjustly detained journalists and bloggers, adding that peaceful protest is part of a democratic process and that responding with excessive force should be avoided under all circumstances.

EU called on all parties to the conflict to guarantee the safe and free movement of civilians and to ensure that the right of freedom of assembly is upheld.

This publication is in the process of establishing contact with all sides as well.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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