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Ethiopia and Eritrea deny US accusations of war crimes

NAIROBI, March 21 (Reuters) – Ethiopia and Eritrea on Tuesday rejected a determination by the U.S. State Department that their armies, along with all sides in the recently concluded conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, had committed war crimes.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), its allies from the Eritrean army and Amhara regional forces, and opposing forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) committed war crimes during the two-year conflict.

Ethiopia’s foreign affairs ministry called the claims “inflammatory” and “untimely”, while Eritrea’s foreign affairs ministry said they were “unsubstantiated and defamatory”.

Blinken’s announcement came less than a week after he traveled to Ethiopia to meet with government officials and a TPLF representative. He praised progress in implementing a November truce while cautioning that more work needed to be done.

“Such apportioning of blame is unwarranted and undercuts support of the U.S. for an inclusive peace process in Ethiopia,” the Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.

It said the U.S. determination was “selective” since it exonerated Tigrayan forces from accusations of rape and sexual violence.

Nevertheless, the statement said Ethiopia hoped its “strategic relationship” with the United States would be restored, echoing desires expressed by both sides during Blinken’s visit to repair relations strained by the war.

The conflict, which was rooted in a power struggle between Tigray’s leaders and the federal government, killed tens of thousands of people, left hundreds of thousands facing hunger and displaced millions.

Human rights violations by all sides, including extra-judicial killings, rapes, looting and displacing people by force, have been documented by U.N. bodies, Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission, independent aid groups and media including Reuters.

All sides have denied responsibility for systemic abuses.

Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Hereward Holland and Jonathan Oatis

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