Ethiopia accuses US of meddling over Tigray

Children play a game of checkers using soda bottle tops at a reception and day center for displaced Tigrayans in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 9, 2021. (BEN CURTIS / AP)

WASHINGTON – Ethiopia accused the United States on Monday of meddling in its affairs after Washington announced restrictions on economic and security assistance over alleged human rights abuses during the conflict in the northern Tigray region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday Washington will also bar current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean government officials it deems responsible for the crisis.

Ethiopia's foreign ministry said that if the US restrictions continued, Addis Ababa "will be forced to reassess its relations with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement the US actions were to press for a resolution of the crisis, adding that further US actions were possible

Ethiopia provides peacekeepers for African Union missions in the neighbouring nations of Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. It has also been a key intelligence partner of Western nations monitoring Islamist militants in the Horn of Africa.

"The attempt by the U.S. administration to meddle in its [Ethiopia's] internal affairs, is not only inappropriate but also completely unacceptable," reads the statement from the foreign affairs ministry.

"What is even more saddening is the tendency by the U.S. administration to treat the Ethiopian government on an equal footing with the TPLF, which was designated as a terrorist organisation … two weeks ago."

Blinken said the restrictions were meant to push the parties involved to settle the conflict that erupted in November.

The parties involved "have taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities or pursue a peaceful resolution of the political crisis," Blinken said.

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Redwan Hussein, head of the Ethiopian government's taskforce on Tigray, said the government would issue a statement soon.

Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel did not return calls and messages seeking comment.

Thousands have been killed and about 2 million people forced from their homes in Tigray after conflict erupted between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian military last November.

Troops from the neighboring region of Amhara and the nation of Eritrea entered the war to support the government.

Residents say Ethiopian troops and their allies have killed civilians and committed gang rapes. Ethiopia said on Friday it had put soldiers on trial for killing civilians and rape, although the court records were not yet public.

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia spent months denying Eritrean soldiers were in Tigray before acknowledging their presence and promising they would withdraw.

Blinken said the United States would continue humanitarian assistance and certain other critical aid to Ethiopia and would continue existing broad restrictions on assistance to Eritrea.

READ MORE: UN warns of alarming malnutrition rates in Ethiopia's Tigray

The Ethiopian government has come under increasing pressure from the international community to demonstrate accountability as reports of atrocities in Tigray mount. The European Union has suspended budget support payments amid reports of gang rapes, mass killings of civilians and widespread looting in the northern region.

Blinken said the United States called on the Ethiopian government to meet commitments to hold accountable all those responsible for rights violations and abuses, to protect civilians, and to ensure unhindered humanitarian access.

Further US actions were possible, he said.