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EU ready to send election observers to Ethiopia despite Tigray conflict

L-R: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gestures while addressing lawmakers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov. 30, 2020 (REUTERS), the EU’s chief diplomat said on Monday (April 19), the EU is set to send an election observation mission to monitor Ethiopia’s elections in June, despite the ongoing war in the country’s northern Tigray province. EPA-EFE/ARIS OIKONOMOU / POOL

The European Union is set to send an election observation mission to monitor Ethiopia’s elections in June, the EU’s chief diplomat said on Monday (19 April), despite the ongoing war in the country’s northern Tigray province.

Speaking after a videoconference with EU foreign ministers, the bloc’s High Representative on foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said that EU election observers would be sent “unless the situation deteriorates further”.

A final decision will be made in the coming weeks, he added.

Fighting between government forces and rebels from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which began last November, had created a “dire humanitarian situation,” Borrell continued.

ALSO READ: Military offensive in Ethiopia’s Tigray forces 2 million out of homes

“Progress remains very limited,” he added, saying it was “impossible to imagine” that Tigray would take part in the elections.

Soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea must “immediately” withdraw from Tigray, he stressed.

During the meeting, foreign ministers received a report from the Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, following his second mission to Ethiopia as Borrell’s EU envoy. Haavisto went to Tigrayan capital Mekele and had reported the urgent need for a ceasefire, said Borrell.

Haavisto’s first mission to Ethiopia as Borrell’s EU envoy in February had prompted an angry reaction from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, which accused the Finnish minister of refusing to meet with Ethiopian ministers and of not going to Tigray.

ALSO READ: EU envoy warns Ethiopia Tigray crisis ‘out of control’

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto warned Tuesday (23 February) that the crisis in Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region appears “out of control”, after visiting the country on behalf of the EU.

The presence of Eritrean troops in the region, who have been accused by humanitarian aid campaigners of taking part in massacres of civilians and other human rights violations, was an open secret throughout the first five months of the fighting. Abiy Ahmed finally conceded in late March that Eritrean troops had been engaged in fighting with the rebels and that they would withdraw. However, no date for any such withdrawal has been set.

There have also been reports that Eritrea may be training up to 10,000 Ethiopian troops in Tigray.

Two years after being awarded the Nobel peace prize by the international community, Abiy’s reputation has been badly damaged by his perceived intransigence during the five month conflict. He has repeatedly refused a ceasefire and accused the international community of interference.

He has, however, given his approval for United Nations officials to work alongside the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), headed by former Amnesty and Human Rights Watch official Daniel Bekele, to investigate human rights abuses in Tigray.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who spoke with Borrell last week on the situation, has also been applying diplomatic pressure on the government in Addis Ababa.

For his part, Borrell said that Abiy’s government must agree to a national dialogue process ahead of the elections scheduled for 5 June.

The general elections will be the first since Abiy’s government took power and restored multi-party democracy. The polls have been delayed by over a year by the pandemic and the difficulties of organising an electoral roll in a country which, even prior to the conflict in Tigray, had a large refugee population.

In a separate move, the European Commission on Monday announced new funding of €53.7 million in humanitarian aid for Ethiopia. The EU executive had, in December, suspended humanitarian aid citing the difficulties in aid supplies reaching communities and refugees in and around Tigray.

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