Ethiopia and the United States have agreed to strengthen their relations, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Wednesday after hosting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as both sides sought to mend the diplomatic damage caused by the Tigray war.
Blinken, visiting the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, also met Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and was due to meet leaders of the Tigray forces that battled the federal government in the two-year war in the northern region.
He will then head to the West African nation of Niger on Thursday, which has been confronting a growing Islamist insurgency.
“We have agreed to strengthen the long standing bilateral relations between our countries with a commitment to partnership,” Abiy said on Twitter after his meeting with Blinken.
Before meeting Abiy and Demeke, Blinken told reporters there was a lot to be done.
“Probably the most important thing is to deepen the peace that has taken hold in the north,” he said.
The talks included discussions on the formation of an interim administration in Tigray and transitional justice policy that would seek accountability and redress for victims of the war, Ethiopia’s foreign affairs ministry wrote on Twitter.
Blinken’s trip is the latest in a series of visits to Africa by senior Biden administration officials as Washington looks to reinforce ties with a continent where China’s diplomatic and economic influence is ubiquitous.
The United States was outspoken in its criticism of alleged atrocities by Ethiopian forces and their allies from Eritrea and the Amhara region during the Tigray war, in which tens of thousands of people were killed before a peace accord was reached last November.
The U.S. government imposed wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia and cut access to the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, a duty-free trade program that had been a boon for the country’s textile sector.
ALLEGED ABUSES PERSIST
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation and traditionally a U.S. ally in East Africa, accused Washington of meddling in its internal affairs and threatened to reassess the bilateral relationship.
It has denied the most serious allegations of human rights violations during in the war.
In a press briefing this week, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee said getting U.S. relations with Ethiopia back to normal would require additional steps by the government to “break the cycle of ethnic political violence”.
Ethiopia is also looking to restructure its debt and secure an International Monetary Fund loan, which the state finance minister said last year was being delayed in part by the Tigray war.
While the peace deal has allowed humanitarian aid to flow into Tigray, needs remain immense after the conflict left hundreds of thousands facing starvation.
Allegation of abuses, especially sexual violence, have persisted after the deal was signed, according to rights groups and humanitarian workers in the region.
Eritrean troops remain in several border areas while militia from the Amhara region, which neighbours Tigray, occupy large areas of territory in contested parts of western and southern Tigray, humanitarian workers said.
Eritrea’s government spokesperson has not responded to requests for comment about the actions of Eritrean troops or any other aspect of its policies.
A spokesperson for the Amhara regional government said it and the people of Amhara were “always ready to co-operate with peace deal process and activities”.