The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development expressed concern Wednesday about the “dehumanizing rhetoric” used by Ethiopia’s leaders amid the nine-month conflict in the Tigray region, whose forces last month were described as “weeds" and “cancer” by the country’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed
Samantha Power spoke to reporters after pressing Ethiopia’s government to ease a blockade of humanitarian aid to Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people face famine in the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. Just 10% of targeted aid has reached the region since mid-July, she said — 153 trucks as of two days ago, while the United Nations has said 1,500 trucks were needed during that time.
Ethiopia’s government in recent weeks has accused aid groups of arming Tigray forces, without providing evidence, and suspended the work of two international aid groups while accusing Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council of “disseminating misinformation.”
Meanwhile, Power said, “desperate humanitarian needs are growing more acute with every passing day” in Tigray, where more than 5 million people need help after Ethiopian and allied forces pursuing Tigray fighters were accused of looting and destroying food supplies. Tigray remains cut off from the outside world, with communications links down and just one road available for aid convoys, which have faced numerous checkpoints and searches.
While the West is said to be exploring the possibility of a humanitarian aid corridor from neighboring Sudan into western Tigray, the head of Ethiopia’s national disaster risk management commission this week rejected that idea. A USAID spokesman did not respond when asked whether Power, who visited Sudan before Ethiopia, discussed the idea with Sudanese leaders.
Power also noted the increasingly heated talk by both sides in the conflict and said the kind of “virulent” language used by the prime minister and other officials, also seen on social media in Ethiopia, “often accompanies ethnically motivated atrocities.”
She called for an immediate cease-fire and dialogue.
Chances of dialogue appear slim as Ethiopia’s government has declared the Tigray forces a terrorist group.
The war started in November after a political falling-out between the Tigray ruling party, which had dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly three decades, and the current prime minister. Now the Tigray forces say they want Abiy out as a precondition to talks.
Power also warned that the resurgent Tigray forces’ presence near key roads “is going to obstruct access” as well. She said some 76,000 people have been displaced in the neighboring Afar region and 150,000 in the Amhara region after the Tigray forces entered those areas in recent weeks.
Separately, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Wednesday with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok about the “expansion of armed confrontation in the Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia, the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Tigray region, and reports of Eritrean troops re-entering Ethiopia, all of which impact regional stability,” the State Department said.
Witnesses in Tigray have alleged widespread abuses by soldiers from Eritrea, which shares a border with the region and fought on the side of Ethiopian forces. Abiy for months denied their presence.