Ethiopia Aflame: EU Worried About Tigray Conflict ‘Unravelling’ the Country

Written by | Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

The “unravelling” of Ethiopia, millions of new refugees, and warfare spilling as far as the Red Sea coast – this is what the EU and its regional allies fear, a leaked internal EU report says. “Both sides do not give sign of stepping back and the risk of spreading violence and the unravelling of the Ethiopian state is present should the current crisis endure.” Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, launched military operations two weeks ago after accusing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which runs Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia which borders Eritrea and Sudan, of attacking a military camp. The federal government announced a six-month state of emergency in Tigray, while a telecommunications and electricity blackout, coupled with limited fuel and cash, has effectively blocked humanitarian access.
The fighting is also fast creating a humanitarian emergency as people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region for eastern Sudan now exceed 33,000, according to the United Nations, which has also called for dialogue and a mediated settlement. Meanwhile, Ethiopia has been “alarmed and surprised” by the EU’s equivocal stance on the conflict between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the rebel leaders of the TPLF, according to the country’s ambassador to the EU. While the Abiy government has been disappointed by the EU’s stance, strong support has come from the United States. “There is a gap in understanding from the EU in what is going on in Ethiopia right now,” Ambassador Hirut Zemene said. Ethiopia‘s government officials say the TPLF leaders are using human shields in a conflict that follows months of increasing tension between the federal government and sections of the TPLF. On the other hand, TPLF officials say the TPLF acted in ‘anticipatory self-defence’ when it opened the fighting with an attack on Northern Command bases controlled by the Ethiopian National Defence Force.
At a press conference following a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers last Thursday (19 November), the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, told reporters that “the situation in the Tigray region, the ethnic-targeted violence, the allegations of atrocities and the human rights abuses are of deep concern.” Borrell also warned of “an imminent and major humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia and in the close region.” But Abiy’s government has denied hitting civilians and insists it is only targeting TPLF leaders and facilities to restore law and order. According to Ambassador Zemene, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who received the Nobel peace prize in 2019, had sought to integrate the TPLF in his reform agenda. This has involved “a huge effort to open up the democratic process”, breaking up the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front which had governed as a one-party state for three decades. The TPLF leaders had been “adamant” that they would not take part in the process, she also said, adding that “this is an internal situation. It is about ascertaining law and order.”

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