UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council expressed concern Thursday about humanitarian conditions and human rights in Ethiopia's Tigray region, marking the council's first collective comment on the conflict that has raged in the region for six months.
The statement made no mention of Eritrean soldiers in Tigray, though U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock and Amnesty International said last week that the troops remain weeks after Ethiopia said they would leave. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Wednesday that “we haven’t seen any evidence that Eritrean troops are withdrawing from Tigray."
In November, political tensions between Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed’s government and Tigray leaders exploded into war. Eritrea teamed up with neighboring Ethiopia in the conflict. Thousands of people have been killed.
The United States has alleged ethnic cleansing in the western part of Tigray, a claim that Ethiopian authorities dismiss as unfounded. The term refers to forcing a population from a region through expulsions and other violence, often including killings and rapes.
Ethiopia has said that life in Tigray is returning to normal.
Lowcock, meanwhile, told the council last week that some 4.5 million of Tigray's 6 million need humanitarian aid and that “there is no doubt that sexual violence is being used in this conflict as a weapon of war." He cited alarmingly numerous reports of rape and other sexual attacks, mainly by men wearing the uniforms of various forces.
In Thursday's statement, the council conveyed “deep concern about allegations of human rights violations and abuses, including reports of sexual violence.” It welcomed an agreement by the U.N. and an Ethiopian rights agency to conduct a joint investigation into reported abuses.
The council also acknowledged Ethiopia’s humanitarian efforts but called for a bigger response, unfettered humanitarian access to everyone in need and “a restoration of normalcy.”