Biden authorizes Ethiopia sanctions, but gives time for cease-fire steps

US president giving time for parties to take 'concrete steps' toward cease-fire before imposing penalties, says US official

Michael Hernandez   | 17.09.2021
Biden authorizes Ethiopia sanctions, but gives time for cease-fire steps


US President Joe Biden approved on Friday sweeping authorizations allowing the State and Treasury departments to impose sanctions on all parties to the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region.

Biden said he is "determined" to halt the fighting, which has displaced well over 2 million people and cast about 1 million into famine-like conditions. He vowed to "push for a peaceful resolution of this conflict," and called on the warring parties to halt hostilities while urging Eritrea to withdraw its forces immediately.

"The ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia is a tragedy causing immense human suffering and threatens the unity of the Ethiopian state," the president said in a statement. "A different path is possible but leaders must make the choice to pursue it."

Officials who spoke to reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity on Thursday emphasized Biden has not approved any designations, for now, to allow for the warring parties to take tangible steps towards ending hostilities.

One of two officials said the executive order authorizing the sanctions regime is intended to pressure the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) "to sit down at the negotiating table," while also providing additional incentive for Eritrea to withdraw forces it deployed in support of Ethiopian forces.

"Unless the parties take concrete steps to resolve the crisis, the administration is prepared to take aggressive action under this new executive order to impose targeted sanctions against a wide range of individuals or entities.

"But a different path is possible. If the government of Ethiopia and the TPLF take meaningful steps to enter into talks for a negotiated cease-fire, and allow for unhindered humanitarian access, the United States is ready to mobilize assistance for Ethiopia to recover and revitalize its economy," the official said.

The Biden administration is specifically looking for the parties to accept African Union-led mediation efforts, designate a negotiations team, agree to negotiations without pre-conditions, and accept invitations toward initial talks. On the humanitarian front, the US wants to see daily aid convoys receive authorizations for at-risk populations, and reduce delays in approvals.

While there is no firm timeframe for the actions to be taken, the administration is looking for action within weeks, not months, the official said.

The Ethiopian government and the TPLF, which ruled Ethiopia for 27 years until 2018, have been fighting since November 2020.

According to official estimates, more than 2 million people have been internally displaced in Ethiopia, while tens of thousands of others have fled to neighboring Sudan.

Currently, less than 10% of needed humanitarian supplies have reached Tigray over the past month due to the TPLF and government obstruction efforts, according to the officials.

The conflict has imperiled Ethiopia's stability and "can lead to the disintegration of the state," the other official warned, adding that "all signs" point to a looming "dangerous escalation and expansion of the humanitarian crisis."

"We're really worried that the end of the rainy season, which is upon us, is going to mark an escalation of the military conflict," he said.

"(Ethiopian) Prime Minister Abiy (Ahmed) seems determined to pursue a military approach," he added, "in hopes of, by his Oct. 4 swearing-in before the new parliament that was elected in the recent election, that he can claim some kind of military victory or military strength. The mass mobilization of the Ethiopian civilians essentially opens a Pandora's Box in such a diverse country."

Abiy made the appeal in August, urging "all capable Ethiopians" to take up arms in support of government forces as the TPLF made territorial gains in neighboring states.

Both the TPLF and Ethiopian forces have been accused of gruesome war crimes.

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