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Blinken Presses Addis on Peace, Pledges $331 Million in Aid

FILE: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) meets Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen (L) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 15, 2023.
FILE: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) meets Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen (L) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 15, 2023.

ADDIS ABABA — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday urged Ethiopia to "deepen the peace" in its war-torn north, as he announced a $331 million aid package to the country during a visit aimed at repairing relations shaken by the two-year conflict.

"This funding will provide life-saving support to those displaced and affected by conflict, drought, and food insecurity in Ethiopia," Blinken said as he toured a U.N. logistics hub in Addis Ababa for food relief.

The new aid, which brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia to more than $780 million in the U.S. fiscal year 2023, is intended "for everyone — not one group or region," Blinken told reporters.

The top U.S. diplomat was paying his first visit to the longstanding ally since the end of the war in Tigray, which claimed 500,000 lives according to U.S. estimates, and led Washington to sever trade preferences with Africa's second most populous nation.

"Getting to justice, bringing people together, that's the way to make sure that peace lasts and that people can move on with their lives and the country can really move forward," Blinken told reporters after a day of talks.

He met for an unusually long two and a half hours with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was angered during the war after Blinken alleged that crimes against humanity had been committed.

Blinken also met representatives of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and said that both sides voiced commitments to implementing the November 2 peace accord brokered in South Africa by the African Union, with U.S. support.

Blinken Highlights Importance of Peace in Ethiopia 
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He also held talks with human rights groups and said they had reported "a very significant drop in human rights violations and abuses in Tigray" since the agreement.

"That doesn't mean that they have been eliminated and, indeed, we strongly urge all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to ensure that they cease entirely," Blinken said.

Abiy, who did not let journalists into his meeting with Blinken, wrote on Twitter that he agreed with him to "strengthen the longstanding bilateral relations (between) our countries with a commitment to partnership."

Souring of relations

Once seen as at the vanguard of a new generation of forward-looking African leaders, Abiy's reputation has taken a beating in Washington over the war.

The violence erupted when the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which once dominated Ethiopian politics, attacked military installations, prompting a major offensive by Abiy's government with backing from neighboring Eritrea.

The TPLF briefly came close to marching on the capital but, beaten back by pro-Abiy forces, agreed to disarm under a Nov. 2 accord negotiated in South Africa by the African Union with U.S. participation.

Molly Phee, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, told reporters before Blinken's departure that his visit would aim to "help consolidate" the peace in the north but that the relationship was not ready to go "back to normal."

Abiy has pledged to restore basic services in war-wracked Tigray, though it is impossible to assess the situation on the ground due to restrictions on media access.

The Tigray war has been one of the deadliest in the 21st century with a U.S.-estimated toll higher than that from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has drawn far more global attention.

Moscow has since gone on a diplomatic offensive in Africa, including in Ethiopia, hoping the continent will stay neutral rather than join Western sanctions against it.

Russia's efforts follow years of inroads in Africa by China, which has also offered the continent's leaders relationships that are unencumbered by Western pressure on human rights.

Soon after Blinken's visit, his third to sub-Saharan Africa, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia — three countries seen as committed to making progress on democracy — as the U.S. steps up its engagement with the continent.