US threatens sanctions against officials in Tigray conflict

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) — The White House yesterday threatened to impose sanctions against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other leaders involved in a conflict gripping the Tigray region, where 10 months of fighting has left hundreds of thousands of people facing famine.

A new executive order allows the US Treasury Department to sanction leaders and groups seen as fuelling the violence if they don’t take steps soon to stop the fighting. Senior US officials who previewed the order Thursday said that while it does not set a deadline on the leaders, they wanted to see progress made toward a cease-fire in the coming weeks. But the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House strategy, said they were not optimistic Abiy would change course.

The 10-month conflict in Tigray has grown from a political dispute into a more serious war threatening stability in Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa and a key US security ally in the region. The fighting, which involved various forces and soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea, has triggered the world’s largest hunger crisis in a decade.

The US and United Nations say Ethiopian troops have prevented passage of trucks carrying food and other aid. Scores of people have starved to death, The Associated Press has reported.

US officials said Thursday that just 10 per cent of humanitarian supplies intended for Tigray have been allowed into the region during the last month.

As the situation deteriorates, Biden’s executive order gives the Treasury and State departments authority to impose sanctions against leaders of all sides in the conflict — the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments as well as the regional forces in Tigray and Amhara. The Treasury Department will exempt humanitarian efforts from any potential sanctions.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the executive order “underscores our resolve to use every appropriate tool at our disposal to bring relief to the long-suffering people of the region”.

Previous US pressure on the combatants has failed. A US announcement in May of visa restrictions against Ethiopian and Eritrean officials was dismissed by Abiy’s Government as an effort to “meddle in our internal affairs.”

US officials who spoke Thursday called on Abiy to show he would move toward a settlement before the new Parliament is seated on October 4 following his party’s landslide victory in July. He now has a new five-year term. No voting was held in the Tigray region.

The war has the potential to fracture Ethiopia just a few years after Abiy moved to resolve the country’s decades-long conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

The US officials expressed concern that Abiy will press for a military success to present to lawmakers when the new government is formed on October 4. His Government’s recent call for all able citizens to join the fight and stop the Tigray forces “once and for all” caused some international alarm.

Since retaking much of their embattled region from Ethiopian forces in June in a dramatic turn in the war, the Tigray forces have brought the fighting into the country’s neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. The Tigray forces say they are pressuring the Government to lift a blockade on Tigray that has left millions of people without telecommunications, electricity, banking services and almost all humanitarian aid.

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