KAMPALA, Uganda – A senior Ethiopian diplomat quit his post in Washington Wednesday over concerns about reported atrocities in Tigray, where fighting persists as federal forces and their allies hunt down the fugitive leaders of the regional administration.
Berhane Kidanemariam, the deputy chief of mission at the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, in a strong statement issued on Wednesday slammed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as a reckless leader who is dividing his country. Kidanemariam is believed to be the first Ethiopian diplomat to resign over concerns relating to the conflict in Tigray.
“With the emergence of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, I, like many other Ethiopians, had big hopes for genuine reforms that could transform our political environment,” the statement said. “However, instead of fulfilling his initial promise, he has led Ethiopia down a dark path toward destruction and disintegration. Like so many others who thought the Prime Minister had the potential to lead Ethiopia to a bright future, I am filled with despair and anguish at the direction he is taking our country.”
It was not immediately possible to get comment from Ethiopian authorities.
The conduct of federal forces and their allies in the Tigray conflict — including fighters allegedly imported from neighbouring Eritrea — has come under increasing scrutiny amid reports of massacres, rapes and other crimes.
After U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Abiy to end hostilities and spoke with him earlier this month, the prime minister’s office reversed its skeptical stance on a reported massacre in the holy city of Axum and said it was investigating “credible allegations” there and elsewhere in the region.
The U.S. also has said it wants the Eritreans and troops from the neighbouring Amhara region to leave Tigray immediately. Human rights groups and others are calling for independent investigations, ideally led by the United Nations.
The resignation of a senior diplomat will pile pressure on Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to make peace with Eritrea after decades of hostilities.
Kidanemariam, who is from Tigray, said in his statement that thousands of ethnic Tigrayans have been harassed, assaulted, and arrested in what he called “a witch-hunt that is taking place against Tigrayans in Ethiopia and in the diaspora.”
He added that Abiy “has deliberately exacerbated hatred between different groups“ by deploying outside troops in Tigray.
Accounts of atrocities by Ethiopian and allied forces against residents of Tigray have been detailed in reports by The Associated Press and by Amnesty International. Ethiopia’s federal government and regional officials in Tigray both maintain that each other’s governments are illegitimate after the pandemic disrupted elections.
The conflict began in November when Abiy sent government troops to Tigray after an attack there on federal military facilities. No one knows how many thousands of civilians have been killed.
Humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people might be starving to death in Tigray. The fighting, which is ongoing in parts of Tigray, erupted on the brink of harvest in the largely agricultural region and sent an untold number of people fleeing their homes. Witnesses have described widespread looting by Eritrean soldiers as well as the burning of crops.
Kidanemariam suggested in his statement that there was no doubt atrocities have been committed in Tigray.
“While all of this is happening,“ his statement said, “the Ethiopian government is intensifying its campaign of lies and deceit by denying the presence of foreign powers, denying atrocities being committed against the people of Tigray, denying all the crimes it is responsible for while the whole world bears witness.”