Ethiopia on Monday denounced visa restrictions imposed by the United States over the war in Tigray, saying they could prompt Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government to reassess the bilateral relationship.
On Sunday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the restrictions would apply to Ethiopian and Eritrean officials accused of fueling the six-month-old conflict, saying those involved had “taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities.”
Blinken also announced “wide-ranging” restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia, while noting that the US would continue humanitarian aid in areas such as health, food and education.
In a response Monday, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry described the move as “unfortunate”, “misguided” and “regrettable”.
“If such a resolve to meddle in our internal affairs and (undermine) the century-old bilateral ties continues unabated, the government... will be forced to reassess its relationship with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship,” the statement said.
The Tigray conflict erupted in early November when Abiy sent troops to detain and disarm leaders of the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Though he vowed the conflict would be brief, fighting continues more than six months later, and world leaders are warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe.
Eritrean troops, who teamed up with the Ethiopian military, have been implicated in multiple massacres and other atrocities during the Tigray conflict, allegations that Asmara denies.
Security forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south, have also moved in to secure and annex territory -- a process Blinken has previously described as “ethnic cleansing”.
In addition to Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, Blinken said Sunday the visa restrictions could apply to “Amhara regional and irregular forces and members of the TPLF”.
Monday’s response from Ethiopia reiterated its stated commitment to investigate human rights abuses and claimed the government had “provided full and unhindered access for humanitarian actors to operate in all parts of the region.”
The UN, though, says access remains “unpredictable” and that aid groups face “increased obstacles to access populations in need.”
The foreign ministry also stressed that Ethiopia will not negotiate with the TPLF, which dominated national politics for nearly three decades but was officially labelled a terrorist organization earlier this month.