Eritrea says EU sanctions on security agency are 'malicious'

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KAMPALA, Uganda — Eritrean authorities described European Union sanctions targeting a security agency Monday as “malicious” and charged the EU with having “ulterior motives.”

Eritrea was one of three African nations subject to EU sanctions announced Monday for alleged human rights violations, including killings and enforced disappearances. The others are Libya and South Sudan.

The Eritrea sanctions target the National Security Office, including its leader, Maj. Gen. Abraha Kassa. In its official journal, the EU said, “The National Security Office is responsible for serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture committed by its agents.”

The EU's new sanctions system is similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, Obama-era legislation that authorized the government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the United States.

Eritrea, one of the world's most secretive countries, in response called the sanctions offensive.

“The EU has no legal or moral prerogative for its decision and has merely invoked trumped-up charges to harass Eritrea for other ulterior motives,” said a statement published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The statement also accused the EU, without citing evidence, of “doggedly and working to save and bring back to power” the Tigray People's Liberation Front, a party in Ethiopia that once dominated power there and whose soldiers are fighting government troops in the embattled Tigray region.

“The EU has particularly targeted Eritrea in a futile attempt to drive a wedge between Eritrea and Ethiopia,” the ministry's statement said.

Soldiers from Eritrea are reportedly helping Ethiopian government forces in the Tigray war, which started in November when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the region after an attack there on federal military facilities. Fighting persists in the region's rural areas even as Ethiopian authorities insist the situation om Tigray is returning to normal.

The U.S. has urged Eritrean troops "to come out” of Tigray, where abuses include reported massacres, rapes, and enforced disappearances. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized some of the atrocities in western Tigray as equal to “ethnic cleansing.” Ethiopia said the allegation was unfounded.

Rodney Muhumuza, The Associated Press