Threatening refugee crisis and a situation that could be much worse than it is. The conflict in northern Ethiopia is causing great concern within the EU.
Refugees from the unrest in the Tigray area of northern Ethiopia in a refugee camp in Sudan. Stock Photography.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has just returned from Ethiopia and Sudan, having been sent as a special envoy on behalf of the EU.
The mission? To investigate the situation after the Ethiopian government offensive launched against the Tigray area in late autumn.
The result? Not very hopeful.
– Ethiopia has opened a Pandora’s box and ended up in a situation that militarily and human rights is very much beyond all control. This has been going on for three months now and we still see no end, says Haavisto at a press conference with TT and a group of other news media at Finland’s EU office in Brussels.
According to the rulers of Ethiopia, it has all been about repelling what has been called a “coup” in the Tigray region. This has been done not only with government forces, but also with the help of militias from the neighboring region of Amhara and the army from neighboring Eritrea.
It has created a difficult-to-monitor situation with the Ethiopian military in the cities and major roads, militias acting on their own, Eritrean forces in the border area and “pockets” under opposition control.
– A recipe for disaster. It seems that two million people or even more are in need of humanitarian aid, says Haavisto.
The Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs hopes that the EU will be able to assist in talks both between the countries in the region and internally.
– Ethiopia needs a national dialogue to discuss the future of Tigray. There is a lot of bitterness and a feeling of not being involved, says Haavisto.
The most urgent call to Ethiopia, however, is to give international aid organizations full access, even to areas held by the opposition.
– What we see is the beginning of another major refugee crisis. It is often said that things can not get worse than they are – but it can, says Pekka Haavisto in Brussels.
The conflict in Tigray
The Tigray region is located in the northern part of Ethiopia and the population makes up about 6 percent of the country’s 109 million inhabitants. The region, together with the Afar region and parts of Eritrea, constituted the core country of the oldest Ethiopia.
The capital is Mekele.
The backbone of the guerrilla that overthrew dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam’s regime in 1991 was tigers, who then came to dominate Ethiopian politics. But their influence has diminished under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the TPLF-dominated TPLF party has chosen to leave the ruling coalition.
Since Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, a number of Tigranian executives have been fired, fired or sidelined – something that, according to the federal government, has happened as a result of efforts against corruption. Tigreans, for their part, have seen government action as a way to reduce their influence.
In November, the government launched a military operation in Tigray, on the grounds that TPLF forces had attacked an army base, killed a large number of soldiers and taken weapons with them. This was denied by the TPLF.
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