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Biden dispatches Senate Democrat to Ethiopia amid human rights concerns

Biden dispatches Senate Democrat to Ethiopia amid human rights concerns
© Greg Nash

The Biden administration is dispatching Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsUS, Iran signal possible breakthroughs in nuke talks How the United States can pass Civics 101 Americans for Prosperity launches campaign targeting six Democrats to oppose ending filibuster MORE (D-Del.) to Ethiopia amid increasing concerns of human rights abuses and a growing humanitarian crisis occurring in the country’s Tigray region. 

Coons will meet with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali at the request of President BidenJoe BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE, national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanBiden 'confident' meeting with Putin will take place soon Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? State Department denies reports of prisoner swap with Iran MORE said in a statement on Thursday announcing the travel.

“Senator Coons will convey President Biden’s grave concerns about the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa,” the statement read.

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The senator will also hold consultations with the African Union on how to advance the region's shared interests in peace and prosperity, Sullivan said.

Coons is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was considered to be on the shortlist for Biden’s secretary of State before he ultimately nominated Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBiden 'confident' meeting with Putin will take place soon Blinken calls for Taiwan to join World Health Assembly in opposition to China US general warns China is actively seeking to set up an Atlantic naval base MORE.

The senator's office did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Blinken on Thursday also announced an additional $52 million in humanitarian assistance for Tigray, to address needs of 4.5 million people in Tigray and an estimated 62,000 refugees who have fled to Sudan.

The total assistance provided by the U.S. is $153 million, the Blinken said.

Coons's travel to Africa comes after the United Nations on Wednesday agreed to a request from Ethiopia to open an investigation into what occurred in Tigray.

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U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet had earlier raised concerns that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have occurred.

Such charges were echoed by Blinken during a hearing with House lawmakers last week, with the secretary of State saying he believes ethnic cleansing occurred in the western Tigray region, laying out a serious charge and determination. Ethiopia has rejected the charge.

In a hearing with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said the Biden administration is “very focused on” the conflict in Ethiopia, where government forces supported by Eritrea are in conflict with the local Tigray representatives in the northern part of the country.

Thousands of people have been killed since fighting broke out in November between government troops and the former ruling party of the region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, while hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. 

Recent reports by Amnesty International and The Associated Press claim that Eritrean forces carried out a brutal massacre of the Tigray population in the western part of the region, killing hundreds of people and deliberately targeting civilians.

Blinken, who said he has spoken on the phone with Abiy “several” times, has called for Eritrean forces and the neighboring regional Amhara forces to leave Tigray and allow access for humanitarian groups and aid workers.

He also called for an investigation into what took place and called for Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for establishing peace with neighboring Eritrea, to “step up” and protect the people of Tigray.

“We also need full accountability, we need to get an independent investigation, what took place there, some kind of reconciliation process so that the country can move forward politically,” Blinken told lawmakers.

Updated: 2:30 p.m.