Blinken presses Ethiopia on 'humanitarian disaster' in Tigray

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People stand next to a mass grave containing the bodies of 81 victims of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces in the city of Wukro in the Ethiopian region of Tigray on February 28, 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday pressed Ethiopia to address what he called an impending humanitarian "disaster" in Tigray, including rising fears of famine.

In a phone call with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Blinken voiced "grave concern about the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights crisis in the country," a State Department statement said.

Blinken pressed for troops from neighboring Eritrea -- which first acknowledged a presence in Tigray earlier this month and promised a withdrawal -- to pull out "immediately, in full and in a verifiable manner."

Forces in Tigray from Eritrea as well as the Ethiopian region of Amhara "are contributing to the growing humanitarian disaster and committing human rights abuses," the statement said.

Blinken said that Jeffrey Feltman, a veteran diplomat given a new role of US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, would soon visit Ethiopia to press his points.

Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, launched an offensive in the Tigray region in November after accusing the long-ruling local party of attacking the military.

The United States is a longstanding ally of Ethiopia but has grown increasingly exasperated, with Blinken earlier describing the violence in Tigray as "ethnic cleansing."

The United Nations said that 1.7 million people in Tigray were displaced at the end of March and that some have begun to die of hunger.

Last week the UN Security Council reached a consensus to issue its first statement on the crisis, voicing "deep concern" over rights violations.

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