By Daphne Psaledakis and Giulia Paravicini
WASHINGTON/NAIROBI (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Ethiopia next week, the State Department said on Friday, as concerns linger over the implementation of the peace agreement following the conflict that left tens of thousands dead and millions uprooted.
The visit, set as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has endeavored to show he is fully restored on the world stage following the two-year Tigray war, comes as foreign troops remain within the region and bureaucratic hurdles hamper the humanitarian response.
Blinken will also visit Niger, an important U.S. counterterrorism partner, during the trip, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. It will be the first-ever visit to Niger by a U.S. secretary of state, Price said.
Blinken’s visit to Addis Ababa and Niamey is one of a slew of high-level visits the Biden administration has planned to Africa this year in an effort to counter the influence of China and Russia on the continent.
Blinken will discuss the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement in Ethiopia, the State Department said, adding that he will also meet with humanitarian partners and civil society actors to discuss humanitarian assistance, food security and human rights.
The Ethiopian government’s two-year conflict with forces in the northern Tigray region ended last November when the two sides signed a deal. Both sides blamed each other for widely documented atrocities, including massacres, rape and detentions without trial.
The war pitted the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) against federal troops, who were also backed by fighters from nearby Amhara region and Eritrea.
Allegations of abuses, especially sexual violence, have persisted also after the deal was signed according to half a dozen humanitarians in the region.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While in Addis Ababa, Blinken will also meet with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat.
The travel to Niger comes at a critical time for West Africa, where groups linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda continue to carry out routine attacks on civilians and the military despite costly interventions from international forces.
What began as a Mali-based insurgency in 2012 has since ballooned into a regional network of competing Islamist groups that operate across large areas of landlocked Niger, Burkina Faso and beyond.
The violence has killed thousands and displaced millions.
Blinken will meet President Mohamed Bazoum and Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou in Niamey to discuss diplomacy, democracy, development and defense, Price said.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Paul Grant in Washington and Giulia Paravicini in NairobiAdditional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis AbabaEditing by Doina Chiacu and Matthew Lewis)
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