In this file photo taken on June 29, 2021 Rebels that are pro-TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front) arrive after eight hours of walking in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia. AFP
The United States on Monday condemned a recent speech by a prominent ally of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed which compared Tigrayan rebels to the devil and said they should be "the last of their kind".
"Hateful rhetoric like this is dangerous and unacceptable," a State Department spokesperson told AFP in response to the speech last week by Daniel Kibret, who is often described as an adviser to Abiy and was nominated to the board of the state-run Ethiopian Press Agency last year.
Since fighting broke out in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region last November, thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced into famine-like conditions, according to the UN, with the war spreading to the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions.
The UN's special adviser on genocide prevention and the USAID's chief have previously voiced concern about hate speech and dehumanising rhetoric in the conflict, but Daniel's comments were the first to draw specific criticism from Washington.
At an event in Amhara attended by high-ranking officials, Daniel called for the total erasure of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated national politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.
"As you know, after the fall of Satan, there was nothing like Satan that was created... Satan was the last of his kind. And they (the TPLF) must also remain the last of their kind," Daniel said.
"There should be no land in this country which can sustain this kind of weed.
"They should be erased and disappeared from historical records. A person who wants to study them should find nothing about them. Maybe he can find out about them by digging in the ground," he said to applause.
Asked to clarify his comments, Daniel said in a text message to AFP: "'They' refers to the terrorist TPLF group."
Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, told AFP that Daniel's remarks were "truly disturbing and reckless".
"Given the surge in deadly ethnic violence in Ethiopia it is hard to take at face value the claim that he was only talking about the TPLF rather than Tigrayans in general," he said.
A federal government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Daniel was expressing "personal feelings" and stressed that he didn't say explicitly that all ethnic Tigrayans should be wiped out.