US President Joe Biden spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday, raising concerns over air strikes in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and urging the leader of Africa’s second most populous country to negotiate a ceasefire after 14 months of war.
The call comes just nine days after the US formally terminated Ethiopia from its trade program with sub-Saharan African countries over human rights violations.
Biden “expressed concern that the ongoing hostilities, including recent air strikes, continue to cause civilian casualties and suffering,” according to a readout of the call from the White House.
An air strike that hit a camp for the internally displaced in the town of Dedebit in the northwest of Tigray on Saturday killed 56 people and wounded at least 30, two aid workers told Reuters, citing local authorities and eyewitness accounts.
Before that strike, at least 146 people had been killed and 213 injured in air strikes in Tigray since October 18, according to a document prepared by aid agencies and shared with Reuters this week.
Tigrayan forces and Ethiopia’s federal government have been engaged in conflict since November 2020, when Abiy ordered a military offensive in Tigray following lengthy disputes over the governance of the region.
On Monday, Biden and Abiy discussed “opportunities to advance peace and reconciliation,” according to the White House readout. The two leaders also discussed ways to “accelerate dialogue toward a negotiated ceasefire, the urgency of improving humanitarian access across Ethiopia, and the need to address the human rights concerns of all affected Ethiopians, including concerns about detentions of Ethiopians under the state of emergency,” it said.
In a separate statement issued on Monday, Abiy’s office said the Prime Minister and Biden discussed “current issues in Ethiopia, bilateral relations as well as regional issues.”
The Ethiopian readout added that Abiy “shared” with Biden “the status of Ethiopia’s rule of law operations in the northern part of the country as well as the efforts being made by the government to address issues in relation to humanitarian assistance, human rights and rebuilding efforts in recently liberated areas.”
Last month, Abiy’s government dismissed calls for a ceasefire from Tigrayan rebel fighters, saying the olive branches it previously offered them have been rejected many times.
The leader of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region had announced a withdrawal of rebel forces from neighboring areas in the country in December, a move that had raised hopes that the fighting might soon come to an end.
Over a year of fighting has left thousands dead, displaced more than 2 million people, fueled famine, and given rise to a wave of atrocities.
The Ethiopian government has denied targeting civilians or that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea had joined the fight. However reports from international observers, human rights groups and CNN have uncovered multiple atrocities.
CNN’s Betsy Klein, Niamh Kennedy, Zeena Saifi, Larry Madowo and Eliza Mackintosh contributed reporting.