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U.S. sanctions Eritrean military leader over abuses in Tigray

U.S. sanctions Eritrean military leader over abuses in Tigray
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the ongoing war in Ethiopia's Tigray region has more than 5.3 million people in need of life-saving assistance. Photo by Ala Kheir/EPA-EFE

Aug. 24 (UPI) -- The Biden administration has sanctioned the leader of the Eritrean military over allegations his forces committed human rights abuses amid its ongoing war in Ethiopia's Tigray region where civilians have been engulfed in a humanitarian crisis.

The Treasury on Monday said in a statement it blacklisted Gen. Filipos Woldeyohannes, the chief of staff of the Eritrean Defense Forces, under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that targets those behind "serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world."

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Filipos heads a military that has been fighting the Tigray People's Liberation Front in the northeastern Ethiopian state of Tigray that borders Eritrea.

The fighting between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF erupted in November with Eritrean joining its neighbor in waging war against the ethnic nationalist former militant group-turned political party.

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The fighting has more than 5.2 million people across the state, equaling 90% of its population, needing life-saving assistance with some 400,000, including 160,000 children, thrust into famine-like conditions, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs early this month.

The Treasury said Monday that the Eritrean Defense Forces are responsible for massacres, looting and sexual assaults in Tigray.

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The federal department said the military members have raped, tortured and executed civilians; destroyed property and ransacked businesses; shot civilians in the street; executed men and boys following house-to-house searches; and forcibly evicted Tigrayan families from their homes to take them over as their own.

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"Internally Displaced Persons in Tigray have described a systematic effort by the EDF to inflict as much harm on the ethnic Tigrayan population as possible in the areas the EDF controls," the Treasury said. "IDPs reported that in some cases, the EDF used knives or bayonets to slash open the torsos of pregnant women and then left them for dead."

The department also accused them of using sexual violence as a weapon of war and a means to terrorize and traumatize the entire population.

"We call upon the Eritrean government to withdraw its military forces immediately and permanently from Ethiopia," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement while calling on all sides of the conflict to end their abuses against civilians and to de-escalate the conflict.

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"Today's action demonstrates the United States' commitment to promoting accountability for those who abuse human rights and continue to perpetuate the crisis in Ethiopia," he said. "The United States will continue to identify and pursue action against those involved in serious human rights abuse in Ethiopia and prolonging the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis."

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