NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — More than 350 former Peace Corps volunteers and a trio of former U.S. ambassadors have written to U.S. congressmen urging them to condemn the violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, warning that “as the fighting ostensibly winds down, we are quite sure that the war will continue on a much more pernicious level.”
The letter seen by The Associated Press also asks lawmakers to press for humanitarian aid to all parts of Tigray, urge the United Nations to investigate and advocate for media access to the region “to document human rights abuses.”
Communications links remain difficult to parts of the Tigray region of some 6 million people, and only a small number of former volunteers have reached friends there. But “we have avoided explicit discussions on what is occurring due to safety concerns and our acute awareness that the Ethiopian government is monitoring all calls,” Isabella Olson, a former volunteer who helped to organize the letter, said in an email to the AP.
Ethiopia’s government has not responded to the letter, she said. The concern about monitoring has been echoed by Tigrayans and others in Ethiopia who say they have faced harassment and ethnic profiling since the conflict began.
As the fighting enters its fourth month, international pressure increases on Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and the anchor of the Horn of Africa, to allow the world to see the effects of the alleged massacres, widespread looting and destruction of health centers, crops and houses of worship. Starvation is now a growing concern.
The fighting began in early November between Ethiopian and allied forces and those of the Tigray region who dominated the government for almost three decades before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018. Each side now views the other as illegitimate.
Ethiopia’s government on Wednesday rejected new reports citing Tigray opposition groups as estimating that 52,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict. The government said “we have not found ourselves with significant civilian casualties,” but it did not say how many people have died.
The letter from former Peace Corps volunteers and diplomats urges lawmakers to remember that the strongest allies of the U.S. “are not simply constituted of politicians in Addis Ababa. They are also the students, teachers, farmers and healthcare workers that Peace Corps volunteers collaborated with in the urban and rural communities currently embroiled in turmoil.”
Tigrayans reached by the AP in recent weeks have reported fear and exhaustion as the fighting continues and few know the fate of relatives elsewhere in the region. Meanwhile, Ethiopian senior officials have asserted to Biden administration staffers that life is returning to normal.
“It just feels like it’s not my country anymore,” said Danait, a woman who felt her home in the regional capital, Mekele, shake when a nearby church was bombarded weeks ago. “It’s been like 90 days, and nothing is back to normal.” She gave only her first name out of concern for family members.