US blacklists Eritrean military over conflict in Ethiopia

Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force are seen during a pro-government rally at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. [Reuters]

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on the Eritrean military and other Eritrea-based individuals and entities as it seeks to increase pressure on parties to the conflict to bring an end to fighting in northern Ethiopia.

In a statement, the U.S. Treasury Department said it blacklisted Eritrea's military, its ruling political party the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the party's economic adviser and the head of the Eritrean national security office, accusing them of contributing to the conflict in neighboring Ethiopia.

War broke out in November 2020 between federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party of Tigray. It has since spread into two neighboring regions in northern Ethiopia.

"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," Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Groups, said in the statement.

"Treasury will continue to use all our tools and authorities to target and expose those whose actions prolong the crisis in the region, where hundreds of thousands are suffering," she said.

Eritrean information minister Yemane Ghebremeskel, Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Abiy's spokesperson Billene Seyoum did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Early in the war, the Eritrean military sent in tanks and troops to aid its ally, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said. Eritrea has also used the conflict to settle old scores in Tigray, Reuters reported this month.

Abiy's government initially denied Eritrea had deployed forces, but later acknowledged they were there and in March, said Eritrea was withdrawing its troops from Tigray. The Eritrean army continues to operate in northern Ethiopia, according to witnesses.

For the first five months of the conflict, Eritrea denied its forces were in Tigray. Eritrean soldiers have been repeatedly accused of mass killings of civilians, kidnapping refugees and gang-rapes on military bases, according to Reuters reporting and international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. Eritrea has rejected these accusations.

Also blacklisted on Friday was Hidri Trust, which the Treasury said is the holding company of all the business enterprises of the Eritrean ruling party, and the Red Sea Trading Corporation, which manages its property and financial interests.

In Eritrea’s official response in October 2011 to a U.N. monitoring group’s report, Eritrea asserted that the Hidri Trust was a holding company of all of the party’s business enterprises and that its primary purpose was to provide social safety nets to families of those killed decades ago during its armed struggle for independence.

The year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed thousands and forced more than two million people from their homes. Fighting has spread from Tigray into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions.