Eritrea has criticized the United States for slapping “misguided” sanctions on its navy, a month after it emerged the secretive Horn of Africa nation tried to buy military equipment from North Korea.

The US announced last week it had banned dealings with the Eritrean navy under a non-proliferation law which prohibits trading in certain military equipment with North Korea, Syria and Iran.

While no details were given, the move comes after a United Nations sanctions monitoring body reported in February that an air shipment of military-grade communications equipment had been intercepted on its way to Eritrea from North Korea via China.

Eritrea’s information ministry said in a statement seen by AFP on Tuesday that the sanctions were “inexplicable and unwarranted”.

“The pattern is sadly the same. Fallacious reports are first floated and illicit measures subsequently announced by the same architects who act as the plaintiff, prosecutor and judge,” said the statement.

“Misguided policies that emanate from this malicious standpoint have failed in the past.”

Eritrea has been under UN Security Council sanctions since 2009 that froze assets and travel for political and military leaders and banned arms sales to the country over its suspected support of Islamist Al-Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia.

Those sanctions are due for review at the end of this month, and the Eritrean government said the new US measures were meant to encourage their renewal.

Details of the two-year sanctions banning the US government and some private exporters from doing business with the Eritrean navy were published by Washington on its federal register.

In a teleconference with reporters, a senior State Department official declined to elaborate on why the Eritrean navy was singled out in the new sanctions, according to a transcript of the discussion.

Eritrea, one of the most isolated countries in the world, has faced increasing international criticism after last year’s release of a UN report accusing the government of President Isaias Afwerki of crimes against humanity.

Tens of thousands of Eritreans are believed to have fled Afwerki’s hardline regime, which forces people to join a national service programme the UN report likened to “enslavement”.

A former Italian colony, Eritrea was later annexed by Ethiopia with whom it fought a 30-year war before finally declaring independence in 1993. No election has been organised since independence and authorities crack down on all opposition.