Nairobi — The U.S. government is urging the Ethiopian government, rebel group Tigray People's Liberation Front, and other warring factions to end the conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region and allow humanitarian aid to reach millions in need of assistance. Unless the conflict stops, key officials could be facing U.S. travel and financial sanctions.
Speaking at an online press briefing Monday, Bryan Hunt, the acting deputy assistant secretary for East Africa, said the U.S. government wants to see an end to the 10-month conflict in Tigray.
"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, a different path is possible, and the United States is ready to help mobilize assistance for Ethiopia to recover and revitalize its economy. Those meaningful steps include accepting African Union-led mediation efforts, designating negotiation teams, agreeing to negotiations without preconditions, and accepting an invitation to initial talks," he said.
Hunt also said the parties should allow convoys of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to reach Tigray and restore essential services to the region.
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order that paves the way for sanctions on Ethiopian government officials, Eritrea and other groups involved in the Tigray conflict.
Hunt said other tools to press for a peaceful resolution to the conflict have failed.
"This conflict has already sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today, with more than five million people requiring assistance, of which over 900,000 are already living in famine conditions. For far too long, the parties to this conflict have ignored international calls to initiate discussions to achieve a negotiated cease-fire and the human rights and humanitarian situations have worsened," he said.
The U.S. government said the sanctions program will not affect personal remittances to non-sanctioned persons, humanitarian assistance, and international and local organizations' activities.
Ethiopian army troops invaded Tigray last November, following months of rising tension between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigray's ruling party, the TPLF.
Erik Woodhouse, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department's Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions Bureau, said the sanctions aim to warn sides to find a solution to the conflict rather than using the military.
"Sanctions are a tool that seek to change the behavior of the targets. These measures impose tangible costs on human rights abusers and perpetrators of conflict. By imposing such costs, the United States seeks to send a signal that such actions are not without consequence," he said.
Professor Chacha Nyaigotti Chacha, a specialist in diplomacy and international relations at the University of Nairobi, said sanctions are not always effective.
"Some of the leadership, when such sanctions are threatened to be applied, they don't care. So, sanctions may not work because the idea of a sanctioning, the idea of stopping opportunities from a flowing country which you are sanctioning is to make them feel the pinch then change their trend. But sometimes they don't care," said Chacha.
In a letter to Biden, Prime minister Abiy defended his actions in Tigray, saying his government has stabilized the region and addressed humanitarian needs amid a hostile environment created by the TPLF.