US Treasury Sanctions Eritrean Defense Officials Over Involvement in Conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray
17:23 GMT 12.11.2021 (Updated: 19:08 GMT 12.11.2021)
The US Treasury announced new sanctions on Friday targeting several figures and institutions in Eritrea's defense sphere over the country's continued involvement in a conflict across the border in Ethiopia's Tigray Region.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions
on "Eritrean actors that have contributed to the crisis and conflict, which have undermined the stability and integrity of the Ethiopian state." The sanctions target four organizations and two individuals.
The sanctioned entities are the Eritrean Defense Force (EDF), the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party, the Hidri Trust holding company, and the Red Sea Trading Corporation (RSTC). The sanctioned persons are Abraha Kassa Nemariam, head of the Eritrean National Security Office, and Hagos Ghebrehiwet W Kidan, CEO of the RSTC and an economic adviser to the PFDJ.
"As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the persons named above that are in the United States, or in the possession or control of US persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC," the release detailed.
As justification for the sanctions, the US Treasury cited Executive Order 14046
, issued by US President Joe Biden on September 17, 2021. The order authorizes US sanctions against individuals or groups deemed to "threaten the peace, security, or stability of Ethiopia, or that have the purpose or effect of expanding or extending the crisis in northern Ethiopia or obstructing a ceasefire or a peace process," and other reasons including "obstructing" the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, targeting civilians and UN or African Union officials, and the sweepingly broad "actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Ethiopia" and "actions or policies that undermine the territorial integrity of Ethiopia."
The US Treasury accuses the sanctioned entities of all of these transgressions.
"The US just declared economic war on Eritrea," Simon Tesfamariam, executive director of the New Africa Institute, said about the sanctions. "Make no mistake about it, this harsh and desperate unilateral measure is directly tied to the cascading failures and impending liquidation of TPLF in the battlefield. Eritrea is ready for any eventuality."
In 2011, the Eritrean government told the United Nations that the Hidri Trust, one of the sanctioned entities, is a holding company of the PFDJ's business enterprises and that its primary purpose is to provide social safety nets to families of those killed during its decades-long war for independence against Ethiopia.
Eritrea won its independence from Addis Ababa in 1991 with the collapse of the Derg military government, although a border conflict continued for several years with the new Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF)-dominated unity government, which was formally ended in 2018 and for which Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed was given a Nobel Peace Prize. That border is largely shared with the National Regional State of Tigray.
In 2020, Eritrea joined Abiy's government in militarily opposing the resurgence of their mutual adversary, the TPLF, after it rejected a move by Abiy that weakened their once-dominating power in the Ethiopian government and rose up in rebellion.
While the TPLF was put on the retreat early in the conflict in late 2020, it has since resurged and launched a new offensive outside of the northern Tigray region and into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. The group has claimed new allies in other Ethiopian ethnic groups, most notably the Oromo Liberation Army, and boasted that it could advance on the capital city of Addis Ababa. Detractors say the movement's offensive has stalled and that the capital is not under threat.
The conflict has created a massive humanitarian crisis, with more than 70,000
people fleeing across the border into neighboring Sudan and an estimated 4 million
more internally displaced, according to United Nations data. There is no reliable death toll for the conflict.
As the Biden administration has postured itself as increasingly ready to become directly involved in the conflict, Ethiopians both in the country and in the diaspora have spoken out against it, using slogans like "Hands off Ethiopia" and the hashtag #NoMore and holding large rallies in both Addis Ababa and Washington DC.
“We are surprised that the US would be supporting [the TPLF] when over 40 million people voted for the current Prime Minister," Gennet Negussie, an advocate for GLEAN (Global Ethiopian Advocacy Nexus), told Sputnik at a Monday
rally outside the White House that she helped organize.
"The majority of the Ethiopian people support him. The diaspora supports him,” she said. “It is very odd. It seems like the US government is trying to overthrow the democratically-elected government and create a transitional government," Negussie said. "The US should support the Ethiopian government to bring these terrorist groups to justice and that’s the only time they can end conflict. We cannot negotiate with any terrorist group.”