USAID chief Power says Tigray rebels should exit border regions

Tigray has been in the throes of a humanitarian crisis for months, with hundreds of thousands of people suffering from famine.

The head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said she had raised concerns about “dehumanising rhetoric” with Ethiopian authorities and also called on rebel forces to “immediately” withdraw from two regions bordering the country’s war-hit Tigray.

Wednesday’s call by Samantha Power came as the conflict threatens to envelop other parts of the country and humanitarian groups struggle to reach cut-off populations.

Tigray has been in the throes of a humanitarian crisis for months, with hundreds of thousands of people suffering from famine, according to the UN, while access for aid to the northern region remains hobbled by delays and bureaucratic hurdles.

The situation took a turn for the worse this week when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government suspended two aid groups active in Tigray, accusing them of “disseminating misinformation”.

Ethiopia said on Wednesday the Dutch section of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) “have been disseminating misinformation in social media and other platforms outside of the mandate and purpose for which the organisations were permitted to operate”.

The move sparked condemnation from Washington, with the US ambassador to the UN calling the suspension “unacceptable”.

“I know the work of @MSF and @NRC_Norway well, and they are internationally respected. Ethiopia must reconsider this decision,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Twitter.

Tigray has been in chaos by violence since November, when Prime Minister Abiy sent troops to topple the governing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in response to what he said were attacks by the group on federal army camps.

The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner declared victory within weeks after government forces took the Tigray capital Mekele, but TPLF leaders remained on the run and fighting continued.

The war took a stunning turn in late June when pro-TPLF forces re-entered Mekele, Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire and the army mostly pulled out of Tigray.

Since then the rebels have launched new offensives into the Amhara and Afar regions which border Tigray, displacing tens of thousands of people.

‘No military solution’

Power, who is visiting Ethiopia, urged the TPLF to “withdraw its forces immediately” from Amhara and Afar.

“If aid is to reach people in need in #Tigray, then ALL parties must end hostilities. There is no military solution to this conflict,” she wrote on Twitter.

“All parties should accelerate unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict.”

Power also reiterated Washington’s demand that Amhara forces withdraw from western Tigray and that Eritrean troops backing up the Ethiopian military also leave the region.

The US has traditionally seen Ethiopia as a crucial partner in the volatile Horn of Africa region, but the Biden administration has been openly critical of the Tigray war.

In March, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said acts of ethnic cleansing were unfolding in western Tigray.

And in May, he announced visa restrictions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials accused of fuelling the conflict.