National Security Adviser to President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday warned of the risk of war crimes in Ethiopia, where government forces surround a city run by rebel regional leaders in what threatens to drift into civil war.
In one of her first tweets following her name, Jake Sullivan warned of “the risk of violence against civilians, including possible war crimes” in an East African country.
Although short, Sullivan’s tweet gave a taste of the incoming administration’s new foreign policy tone. He urged “both sides” to take part in the African Union’s plan to send three former African leaders as mediators.
The conflict in Ethiopia began earlier this month when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched an offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, known as the TPLF, which dominates the mountainous Tigray region.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed, while about 40,000 fled to neighboring Sudan. Aid agencies say they cannot access the region to provide food, water and medicine to civilians captured on the front lines.
Sullivan’s idea contrasts with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who focused last week on calling for TPLF attacks while praising the “restraint” shown by government forces. In his later remarks, Pompeo called on both parties to “take immediate steps to escalate the conflict, restore peace and protect civilians.”
President Donald Trump was often underestimated, which wreaked havoc last month with the suggestion that Egypt could “blow up” Ethiopia’s $ 4.6 billion hydroelectric dam on the Nile. In 2018, he called African nations “shithole countries,” a democratic aide told NBC News at the time.
International observers are watching Ethiopia in alarm.
Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his dealings with neighboring Eritrea, calls the offensive a “law enforcement operation” in response to the TPLF attacking a military base that he called “treason.” He also claims that the group tried to damage democracy by training, arming and financing the crimes, who carried out the attacks.
The TPLF, on the other hand, has accused Abyy of persecuting the Tigrayians since taking office in 2018. He sees attempts by the federal government to centralize power as an attack on their decentralized regional regulation.
The government has issued a 72-hour ultimatum, which ends Wednesday, urging fighters to surrender and leave the civilians before launching an attack on the region’s capital, Mekele, and 500,000 people.
“We want to send a message to the Mekeleian audience to save themselves from possible artillery attacks,” military spokesman Dejene Tsegaye told state television, according to The Associated Press. – There will be no grace after that.
Debretsion Gebremichael, regional head of TPLF, told Reuters his fighters were “ready to die defending the administrative rights of our region.”
Communication to the region has been cut off, so it is unclear whether civilians are aware of the government’s ultimatum.
This is not the first time Sullivan has warned of possible war crimes. According to an investigation by the human rights group Amnesty International, many, probably hundreds, of workers were killed in Tigray earlier this month.
“If it is confirmed that one side of the current fighting was deliberately carried out, the killing of these civilians would of course be a war crime,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement calling for an investigation.
The Ethiopian prime minister on Wednesday rejected these statements made abroad, saying he and his government “respectfully urge the international community to refrain from any undesirable and illegal interference.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.