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US seeks answers from Saudi Arabia on alleged border killings, report says

American officials are attempting to determine whether the US provided support or training to the Saudi border forces facing allegations of killing Ethiopians
Members of the Saudi border guard and army's armoured personnel carrier patrol the Saudi-Yemeni border in southwestern Saudi Arabia, on 9 April 2015.
Members of the Saudi border guard and army's armoured personnel carrier patrol the Saudi-Yemeni border in southwestern Saudi Arabia, on 9 April 2015 (AFP)

The Biden administration is calling Saudi Arabia to identify which members of its security forces are alleged to have killed Ethiopian migrants along Riyadh's border with Yemen, the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The report noted that by determining which elements of Saudi Arabia's security forces are facing the accusations, Washington would be able to determine whether it has provided weapons or training, or both, to the units.

Saudi Arabia has denied the allegations, describing them as "politicised and misleading reports" that were "launched repeatedly for suspicious objectives".

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report saying that Saudi border guards shot Ethiopians attempting to cross the border at close range, and in some cases asked them which of their limbs they would prefer to have shot.

The 73-page report, based on witness interviews and analysis of photos, videos and satellite imagery going back to 2021, builds on a mounting body of evidence of serious human rights violations along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

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A week prior to the release of the report, Middle East Eye reported that Yemenis were braving violence at the border in pursuit of work in Saudi Arabia.

MEE reached out to the Saudi embassy in Washington for comment on the Washington Post report, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

The administration has been reviewing past security cooperation with Riyadh to determine if there were any US ties to ground units in the kingdom's border guard, a senior official in the State Department told the Washington Post.

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"There are limits to our information as to what's going on at that border, what we can see and what we know," the official said. "[That's] all the more reason to have additional transparency and investigation, to ensure that we can understand what's happened there and make sure that we appropriately address any indications."

Tens of thousands from Ethiopia have journeyed to Yemen with the goal of crossing into Saudi Arabia.

The Yemeni border has become a major transit point for people from the Horn of Africa attempting to cross into Saudi Arabia. Many refugees and migrants rely on networks of traffickers to help them travel along the route, leaving them vulnerable to violence. 

The majority of the people attempting to cross the border are Ethiopians, many of whom are looking to escape civil conflict in their own country. A 2021 report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that more than 800,000 Ethiopians have fled the country in search of employment and economic opportunities.

Furthermore, according to the IOM, more than four million people are internally displaced in Ethiopia.

'Cannot rule out' US support

The Guardian reported earlier this week that both the US and Germany had provided training to the Saudi military, including its border forces. The US-Saudi training programme dates back to 2015, and only ended last month, according to the Guardian.

Because Washington has been unable to determine which specific units are at the heart of the allegations, US officials told the Post that they "cannot rule out" that American training and arms contributed to the alleged killings.

Saudi Arabia is the single largest customer of US foreign military sales and has received extensive military support from Washington.

A report released last year from the Government Accountability Office, a government watchdog agency, shows the US administered at least $54.6bn to the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The GAO report further found that the US failed to properly evaluate the use of American-made weapons in the killing of civilians in Yemen.

The release of the HRW report this month comes at a pivotal point in US-Saudi relations, as Washington has been looking to improve its ties with the kingdom and work to secure a normalisation agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

A report by the Wall Street Journal this week stated that Saudi Arabia offered to reimplement funding to the Palestinian Authority in a bid for securing support for normalising ties with Israel.

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