US threatens new sanctions in wake of conflict in Tigray

Monday, September 20th, 2021 00:00 |
US President Joe Biden. Photo/Courtesy

New York, Sunday

The United States has announced a new sanctions regime related to the continuing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, threatening to punish those who prolong the fighting and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

An executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Friday allows the US Treasury and State Department to sanction leaders and groups if they do not soon take steps to end the violence.

“The Executive Order I signed today establishes a new sanctions regime that will allow us to target those responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict in Ethiopia, obstructing humanitarian access, or preventing a ceasefire,” Biden said in a statement, adding that those targeted could include members of the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and the Amhara regional government.

The White House noted that all named groups have been accused of rights abuses in the fighting, which erupted between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the TPLF, Tigray’s ruling party, more than 10 months ago.

In a separate statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would delay imposition of sanctions if the warring parties “cease ongoing hostilities and enter into ceasefire negotiations immediately and without preconditions”.

Thousands killed

The sprawling, multi-party conflict has killed thousands of people and left at least five million people in need of humanitarian aid.

US officials on Thursday said that up to 900,000 people were currently living in famine conditions in Tigray alone with aid convoys regularly blocked by Ethiopian troops from entering the region.

The UN has called the situation a “de facto humanitarian aid blockade”.

In his statement on Friday, Biden said he agreed with the UN and African Union that “there is no military solution to this crisis”.

The latest measure comes after the US imposed sanctions on General Filipos Woldeyohannes, the chief of staff of the Eritrean Defence Forces, in August.

The Eritrean government, a longtime foe of the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, has been instrumental in aiding the Ethiopian government in the conflict.

Previous US visa restrictions on Eritrean and Ethiopian officials in May were dismissed by Abiy’s government as an effort to “meddle in our internal affairs”.

On Friday, Abiy released an open letter to Biden, in which he accused the US and wider international community of overlooking abuses committed by the TPLF, which he called “a terrorist organisation”.

“Unfortunately, while the entire world has turned its eyes onto Ethiopia and the government for all the wrong reasons, it has failed to openly and sternly reprimand the terrorist group in the same manner it has been chastising my government,” he wrote.  - Xinhua

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