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What Did Blinken Achieve for Ethiopian Survivors?

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a working visit to Addis Ababa on Wednesday March 15, 2023.

WASHINGTON — The need for accountability for survivors of Ethiopia's two-year conflict was raised by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he met Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Wednesday during a working visit to the country as the U.S. tries to revitalize bilateral relations.

Reuters reported that Blinken also highlighted security concerns in the Oromia region which has seen an uptick in violent activities recently even as warring parties agreed to end hostilities in an African Union-led peace pact last November.

Humanitarian workers and aid agencies have reported human rights abuses, including the deaths of more than five thousand people in a conflict that upended the northern region of Tigray.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in a report said all parties in the conflict committed "crimes against humanity."

Prior to embarking on his first trip to East Africa's most populous nation, analysts and right groups asked the U.S. top diplomat to do right by those who continue to bear the brunt of the conflict — centering accountability and justice.

Mesenbet Assefa, an assistant professor of law at Addis Ababa University told VOA that by raising the issue of accountability with Ethiopian officials, the U.S. has sent a "very huge signal" to forestall future atrocities.

"This is something that should be taken positively. I think the political message that it sends is very huge, in terms of preventing future atrocities as well," he said.

Assefa also said that the adoption of a transitional justice policy by Ethiopia's federal government is a testament to its "goodwill" toward reconciliation and peace.

"The talk [about] accountability also requires a very serious political commitment because we are talking about the possible prosecution of maybe very high level political and military figures," he said.

"So, it all depends on how that is going to unfold. But from what we see now, we'll have to wait and see how the political commitment would be reflected [in terms of accountability]."

Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at Brookings' Strobe Talbott Center told VOA that regionally, Ethiopia's role in tackling al-Shabab underscores its significance to U.S. foreign policy.

"[Ethiopia] is a very large, populous country with a hefty military force in the Horn of Africa and has been for two decades a U.S. principal ally in counter terrorism issues in the region that have not gone away," she said.

"It still plays a very important role in the fight against al-Shabab and in fact there is an expectation that Ethiopia will be deploying more forces to Somalia."

The Brookings analyst confirmed the concerns raised by Blinken about threats to peace in the Oromia region, noting that "the issue of Amhara is also far from settled."

"Instability in Ethiopia goes far beyond the Tigray region. Tremendous explosiveness remains in various parts of the country. All the suffering that the war in Tigray brought could even be dwarfed if Oromia broke out into extended fighting, also the issue of Amhara is far from settled."

VOA's Carol Van Dam contributed to this article.