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Eritrea Blasts US Sanctions Against Its Military, Ruling Party, Officials

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FILE - A 40-year-old woman who says she was held captive and repeatedly raped by 15 Eritrean soldiers over a period of a week in a remote village near the Eritrea border, speaks during an interview at a hospital in Mekele, in the Tigray region of Ethiopa.

Eritrea is condemning fresh sanctions that were imposed Friday by the United States on Eritrea's military, ruling party and two senior government officials in connection with Eritrea's role in the Ethiopian conflict, asserting they continue Washington’s “misguided and hostile policy.”

Eritrea’s foreign ministry lashed out Saturday and contended in a statement the goal of the “illicit and immoral sanctions” is to inflict suffering on Eritrea’s people and destabilize the Horn of Africa nation.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced Friday it had imposed sanctions on the Eritrean Defense Force, whose soldiers have fought in the Tigray region alongside Ethiopian forces, and Eritrea's sole political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice.

PFDJ economic adviser Hagos Ghebrehiwet W. Kidan and Eritrean intelligence chief Abraha Kassa Nemariam were also designated, along with two Eritrean businesses linked to the PFDJ: Hidri Trust and Red Sea Trading Corporation.

"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," OFAC Director Andrea Gacki said in a statement.

Meanwhile, United Nations spokesperson Farhan Haq said Ethiopia's federal government had detained a 10th U.N. staffer, who joined nine other imprisoned staff members and more than 70 truckers contracted by the U.N. in Addis Ababa.

Haq said the U.N. is pressing on with efforts to get the staffers and drivers released. "We are continuing with our efforts; we are pushing on all the doors that we can. But we haven't made the progress that we would have liked to have made," he said.

The detentions add to worries that the Ethiopian government's yearlong conflict with the Tigray People's Liberation Front in the country's north is about to get worse. At the beginning of the conflict, Ethiopian forces flushed from federal military bases in an early TPLF offensive retreated to neighboring Eritrea, which at first fed, clothed and rearmed Ethiopian soldiers before sending its own military into Ethiopia.

Amid Ethiopia Crisis, Blinken Heads to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal
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Eritrea's parallel campaign to help Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has complicated the war. Eritrean forces have been accused of killing civilians, looting Tigrayan towns, abusing refugees and blocking humanitarian aid, contributing to what some officials fear is a road to Ethiopia's collapse.

"Eritrea's destabilizing presence in Ethiopia is prolonging the conflict, posing a significant obstacle to a cessation of hostilities, and threatening the integrity of the Ethiopian state," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement released Friday. He called for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia immediately.

The conflicts in Ethiopia and neighboring Sudan will likely headline Blinken's upcoming trip to Africa, where he's scheduled to meet Kenyan, Senegalese and Nigerian officials at their capitals next week. The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to collaborate with African partners on areas of shared interest, according to the State Department.

"I am very concerned about the potential for Ethiopia to implode given what we are seeing both in Tigray but also as we have different forces and different ethnic groups that are increasingly at odds," Blinken said Friday. "We are working very closely to support the efforts of the former Nigerian President (Olusegun) Obasanjo to mediate a way forward with all the Ethiopian parties."

The State Department is holding off on approving sanctions on Ethiopia's national government and the TPLF, but after the U.N.'s recent announcements of detained staffers, Washington's patience may be wearing thin. The United States is "ready to pursue additional sanctions" if diplomacy isn't renewed, according to the State Department statement issued Friday.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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