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US slaps new sanctions on Eritrea over Ethiopia's Tigray conflict

This picture taken on November 22, 2020 in Humera shows a member of the Amhara Special Forces standing guard at the border crossing between Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Photo by AFP)

The United States has slapped new sanctions on the Eritrean military and the country’s ruling party for “contributing to the crisis and conflict” in northern Ethiopia.

The US Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions on the Eritrean Defense Forces and the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, as well as others linked to the conflict for their "continued role" in the yearlong fighting in Tigray.

In its statement, it cited "numerous reports of looting, sexual assault, killing civilians, and blocking humanitarian aid" by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s northern region.

Eritrean troops "have been seen disguised in old Ethiopian military uniforms, manning checkpoints, obstructing and occupying critical aid routes, and threatening medical staff in one of northern Ethiopia's few operating hospitals," the statement said.

 “We condemn the continued role played by Eritrean actors who are contributing to the violence in northern Ethiopia, which has undermined the stability and integrity of the state and resulted in a humanitarian disaster,” director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M. Gacki said in the statement.

The US had earlier slapped restrictions on officials in Ethiopia and Eritrea over the Tigray conflict.

Eritrea had revealed earlier this year that its forces had entered northern Ethiopia.

Eritrean troops took part in the conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region but promised to pull the troops out.

Later, Ethiopia's government acknowledged that Eritrean troops would leave the region.

In response to the US sanctions, Eritrea denounced Washington for targeting its military leaders and members of the ruling party.

The Eritrean Information Ministry said in a statement in Asmara on Saturday that the "illicit" and "immoral" US sanctions slapped on Eritrean officials were the result of misguided and hostile US foreign policy.

"This unilateral sanction, that shifts blame to and scapegoats Eritrea on the basis of spurious allegations, is in contravention of international law, and constitutes a flagrant breach of the sovereignty, independence and liberation of peoples and nations," it said.

It added that the US sanctions were meant to "obstruct enduring solutions" to the vicious cycle of chaos that undermines stability in the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia, and "inculcate suffering and starvation on the population ... to induce political unrest and instability."

Washington unabashedly claims that "the sanctions are not aimed at harming the Eritrean people", it said, adding, No one can really be deceived by these crocodile tears.

“The people and Government of Eritrea deplore, in letter and spirit, the illicit and unilateral ‘sanctions’. They urge all peace and justice-loving, sovereign and independent peoples and forces, to lend their support to Eritrea,” the Eritrean ministry said.

Ethiopia also denounced the US sanctions slapped on Eritrea. It defended Asmara by saying the Tigray rebels had first fired rockets at the neighboring country, and that Eritrea had the right to restore peace and maintain security by taking measures to defend itself against the deadly attacks.

"It is the sovereign right of the Eritrean government to respond to imminent danger to its territorial integrity and security, “it said.

It called on the US to instead slap sanctions on rebel forces in Tigray for their "destabilizing roles" in the region.

The Ethiopian government’s conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began a year ago.

The conflict has accelerated in recent days as TPLF makes advancements and a nationwide state of emergency was declared this month.

Residents of Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa, have been told to be ready to take up arms to defend residential areas against advancing forces of the TPLF and its allies..

The TPLF recently claimed that its forces were 325 kilometers from the capital.

However, the government said the rebel groups were exaggerating their gains, but it also called on “all capable Ethiopians” to join the fight against rebels and stop them from pushing beyond the embattled region.

In November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops to Tigray to topple the local government after its forces launched deadly attacks on federal troops based in the region.

Since the conflict started last year, thousands have been killed and more than two million have fled their homes.

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