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Blinken's 'war crimes' determination following his meeting with Abiy

Washington statement tries to appease human rights critics as it rebuilds ties with Addis Ababa

A week after his meeting with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa when he offered US$330 million in humanitarian aid to the government, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to hard diplomacy stating that armed forces on all sides of the conflict in northern Ethiopia have committed war crimes.

'I've determined that members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces, Tigray People's Liberation Front forces and Amhara forces committed war crimes during the conflict in northern Ethiopia,' Blinken said at a press conference for the release of the State Department's 2022 Human Rights Report on 20 March.

That may shock Abiy, whose ministers had described Blinken's visit to Ethiopia last week as the start of a relaunch of diplomatic relations with the US. Blinken did not mention the war crimes determination during his meetings in Addis Ababa, instead referencing only the 'importance of accountability for the atrocities perpetrated by all parties during the conflict' and 'the need for an inclusive and comprehensive process of transitional justice'.

On 20 March, he praised the steps the Ethiopian government has taken towards transitional justice.

Reports in Addis this week suggest that Getachew Reda, former spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), could lead a new interim administration in Tigray (AC Vol 64 No 1, A fragile truce with many foes).

That move could unblock progress on emergency aid delivery and reconstruction work in the region. It might also encourage more flows of post-war rebuilding funds from the US, the European Union and Britain.

The US wants to 'refashion our engagement with Ethiopia,' Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee told reporters ahead of Blinken's visit to Addis, which was followed by a visit to Niger.

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