Biden calls for ceasefire in Ethiopia's Tigray

President's call is largest step US has taken in seven-month conflict

FILE PHOTO: A bus carrying displaced people arrives at the Tsehaye primary school, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 14, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo
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US President Joe Biden on Wednesday called for a ceasefire in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

"Belligerents in the Tigray region should declare and adhere to a ceasefire, and Eritrean and Amhara forces should withdraw," he said of the conflict that has plagued the region since November.

A unanimous US Senate vote approved a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Tigray last week.

"I am deeply concerned by the escalating violence and the hardening of regional and ethnic divisions in multiple parts of Ethiopia," Mr Biden said.

"The large-scale human rights abuses taking place in Tigray, including widespread sexual violence, are unacceptable and must end.

"Families of every background and ethnic heritage deserve to live in peace and security in their country."

Eritrean forces joined Ethiopian troops in an offensive against Tigray People's Liberation Front in November after tension grew between the rebels and Addis Ababa.

Since then, civilians' homes have been destroyed or looted and places of worship destroyed.

Mr Biden and the US Senate have received reports on human rights violations ranging from sexual abuse to rape and murder.

As a result, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the ongoing violence amounts to "ethnic cleansing".

More than two million people have become displaced and 4.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid.

Eritrean forces said they would leave the region in March but reports say they have not.

US envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, called for them to "immediately withdraw" earlier in May.

Mr Biden said Mr Feltman would be travelling to the region next week, making it his second trip there of his term so far.

"US special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeff Feltman is leading a renewed US diplomatic effort to help peacefully resolve the interlinked conflicts across the region," Mr Biden said.

He said the envoy would also work on diplomacy over the regional Nile dam dispute involving Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.

The US has placed sanctions on Ethiopian and Eritrean government officials and members of the security forces, and some members of the ethnic Amhara and TPLF forces this week.

Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, on Tuesday warned that the region is also under severe threat of a famine.

Mr Biden referred to that: "All parties, in particular the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, must allow immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access to the region in order to prevent widespread famine."

The US has also sent more than $300 million in aid so far in the conflict.