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US eases aid restrictions to Ethiopia citing human rights progress

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The United States announced on Friday that it would be easing restrictions on aid to Ethiopia, citing notable progress in the country’s human rights situation following a ceasefire agreement with Tigrayan rebels.

This decision comes just weeks after the US suspended food assistance to Ethiopia, alleging widespread diversion of crucial aid for sale in local markets. The resumption of assistance will now be focused on initiatives aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation, including demining efforts, according to officials.

Speaking to reporters, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated, “We are lifting some restrictions on certain kinds of assistance, while pausing food aid.” He further explained that the State Department made this decision last week, taking into account the ongoing improvements in human rights, particularly following the November ceasefire agreement between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebels.

Kirby emphasized the United States’ approach, stating, “Our fundamental approach here has been to reinforce progress toward enduring peace, while not overlooking concerns in Ethiopia when we assess that our assistance is being misdirected.”

The relaxation of the US stance on Ethiopia’s human rights situation could also pave the way for greater support as the second most populous country in Africa seeks new assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

However, it is important to note that this step does not currently address one of Ethiopia’s priorities – a return to a major trade agreement. The United States terminated Ethiopia’s trading preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, effective from the beginning of 2022, due to human rights concerns.

In March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, as well as rebels, of committing war crimes during the brutal two-year conflict. He specifically highlighted instances of sexual violence and the targeting of communities based on ethnicity.

The United States has previously estimated that around 500,000 people lost their lives in the two-year conflict, making it one of the deadliest wars of the 21st century and surpassing the toll from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While announcing the aid restrictions easing, the State Department emphasized that this change in guidance does not diminish US concerns about the situation in Ethiopia. A spokesperson stated, “We will continue to raise concerns and speak out about reports of serious human rights abuses, including by non-state actors in Western Tigray, and urge the government to protect civilians and hold perpetrators accountable.”

The conflict in Ethiopia erupted in November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched an offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in response to the rebel group’s attacks on the military. The TPLF had once dominated Ethiopian politics.

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