October 3, 2023

As Ethiopian government bombs Tigray, United States discusses path forward with United Nations, considers ‘financial sanctions’

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on COVID-19 and the economy
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on COVID-19 and the economy

Hours after the Ethiopian government launched another airstrike on Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray, the United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, on Friday, spoke with the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss topics of global importance, including the escalating conflict in northern Ethiopia.

“They also discussed their shared concern over the worsening conflict in northern Ethiopia, including the escalating violence and its impact on humanitarian operations,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. “Secretary Blinken expressed U.S. appreciation for the Secretary-General’s efforts to address the humanitarian crisis and commended the efforts of the UN Country Team in Ethiopia, which continues to work under challenging conditions. The Secretary and Secretary-General Guterres discussed opportunities to strengthen international collaboration to stop the current hostilities, promote negotiations toward a sustainable ceasefire, and deliver life-saving assistance.”

Speaking with reporters in Washington D.C., Price, the State Department spokesperson, referenced the sanctions President Joseph R. Biden Jr. authorized on September 17 against all those undermining peace and security in Ethiopia, asserting that the government was considering “the full range of tools at our disposal to address the worsening crisis in northern Ethiopia, and that includes the use of financial sanctions.”

“But let me just reiterate that we do remain gravely concerned by the escalating violence, by the expansion of fighting in northern Ethiopia and in regions throughout the country – and given the growing risk to the unity and the integrity of the Ethiopian state,” Price said. “Escalating fighting is so concerning in large part because it undermines efforts that are critical to keep civilians safe and to deliver humanitarian relief to those Ethiopians in dire need.”

Price noted the Biden administration has repeatedly urged “all parties to end hostilities immediately, and for the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF to enter into negotiations without preconditions toward a sustainable ceasefire.”

“A ceasefire will help establish conditions for inclusive and credible dialogue to find a political settlement to longstanding grievances that, in many ways, have led to this conflict,” he said.

The sanctions being considered, Price noted, may include officials in the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean Government, the TPLF, the Amhara regional government, “who are responsible for or complicit in prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access, or preventing a ceasefire.”

“We are absolutely prepared to take action under this EO (Executive Order) to impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for the ongoing crisis,” he said. “We are at the same time taking measures to mitigate any unintended effects of any sanctions imposed under this EO on the people of Ethiopia and the wider region.”

Price added, “Even as we look at ways to potentially hold accountable the perpetrators of these acts, our cardinal rule is to do nothing that will – that would harm the people of Ethiopia. We also seek to ensure personal remittances to non-sanctioned persons, humanitarian assistance to at-risk populations, and longer-term assistance programs and commercial activities that address basic human needs continue to flow to Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa region through legitimate and transparent channels.”

“So we’re going to do – continue to do both things: to hold accountable those who are responsible for some of these atrocious acts, even as we continue to support the humanitarian needs and imperatives of the people of Ethiopia.”

On Friday, Ethiopian forces launched a new airstrike on Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, the fourth day this week that bombs have been dropped on the city.

A government spokesperson was quoted as saying that the airstrikes on Friday targeted a training center used by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Spokesperson Bilene Seyoum said the center was serving as “a battle network hub by the terrorist organization,” a term used to refer to the TPLF, an organization the government has labeled a terrorist organization.

The TPLF said the airstrike on Friday hit a university in Mekelle but the Ethiopian government spokesperson Legese Tulu denied that a university was hit, saying only that it targeted a communication center being used by the TPLF on a military base in Mekelle. 

The TPLF TV, Tigrai TV, reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the strike, and reports quoted humanitarian sources as saying that a UN plane was forced to abort a scheduled landing in Mekelle due to the airstrike.

Ethiopian government troops first launched airstrikes on Mekelle on Monday, killing at least three children and wounding several others, according to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, government troops bombed TPLF weapons caches in Mekelle and the town of Agbe, which is located about 50 miles away from Mekelle.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize has rejected calls by the United States, the United Nations and others to find a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has now lasted almost a year.

The United States estimates that hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray remain at an increased risk of famine and thousands have already died.

Also, on Wednesday, President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with representatives of The Elders, an organization of prominent former world leaders founded in 2007 by former South African President Nelson Mandela, to address global challenges, including the devastating war in northern Ethiopia.

The representatives in attendance included Chair of The Elders Mary Robinson – Former President of Ireland; Gro Harlem Brundtland – Former Prime Minister of Norway; Former World Health Organization Director-General; Ricardo Lagos – Former President of Chile; Juan Manuel Santos – Former President of Colombia; Hina Jilani – Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan, and David Nussbaum – The Elders Outgoing Chief Executive.

“They discussed the importance of U.S. leadership in addressing threats to peace and security, including tackling the climate crisis, advancing nuclear arms control, ending the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthening health security, and promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Ethiopia and elsewhere around the world,” NSC spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.

The conflict in Ethiopia has dragged on for up to 11 months, killed thousands of people, displaced hundreds of thousands and left many others at an increased risk of famine.

The United States has been vocal and has agreed with the United Nations that there is no military solution to the conflict. The administration has called on all parties to negotiate and find a lasting solution to the conflict through peaceful means.

However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize has embraced war rather than peace, a decision that has infuriated Washington. On Monday, Ethiopian forces launched two airstrikes on Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray, a move that has escalated things further away from a peaceful resolution.

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