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As negotiations step up the pace, western powers turn up pressure

Following Washington's lead, Brussels mulls sanctions on leaders on warring sides in the Tigray conflict

In the wake of the United States warning on targeted sanctions and ejection of Ethiopia from Washington's free trade deal in Africa, the European Union is discussing plans for hard-hitting measures against leaders in Addis Ababa and Tigray region.

'The EU remains ready to use all its foreign policy tools, including restrictive measures, to promote peace, adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law, and help end conflict,' said Josep Borrell, the EU's High Representative on foreign affairs on 4 November.

There is unanimity among EU foreign ministers who have condemned Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's handling of the Tigray war. This follows splits in Brussels over whether to impose sanctions on Turkey, Russia and Belarus. The Ethiopian government has no one to plead its case in Brussels.

Although relations between the EU and Abiy are ice cold, Borrell stipulated the bloc 'supports the stability, unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia.' That supports Addis Ababa's position and criticises the TPLF's political statements on secession.

Economic sanctions and travel bans can be imposed under the EU's Human Rights Sanctions regime, which is modelled on the US's Global Magnitsky Act.

Few expect that sanctions will contribute to persuading Abiy to drop his 'all-out war' policy. Pressure on that is coming from the federal forces' reversals on the battlefield last month. Over the last few days, with concerns growing about a possible attack on Addis Ababa, negotiators have stepped up their efforts.

The prospect of sanctions, and the fact that the EU will continue to freeze all budget support to Ethiopia while the war in Tigray continues, combined with the US considering whether to exclude Ethiopia from tariff free exports to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, will weigh on its economy (AC Vol 62 No 22 The costs of Abiy's all-out war).

US sanctions on officials judged to be prolonging the war are set to be implemented soon. Officials say that the regime will include travel bans and asset freezes on ministers, military commanders and regional authorities, as well as restrictions on aid and prohibition of arms sales.

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