(Reuters) – The European Union has suspended budget support for Ethiopia worth 88 million euros ($107 million) until humanitarian agencies are granted access to people in need of aid in the northern Tigray region.
In a blog post published on Friday, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed now needed to live up to the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2019 by doing all it takes to end the conflict in Tigray.
“We are ready to help, but unless there is access for humanitarian aid operators, the EU cannot disburse the planned budget support to the Ethiopian government,” Borrell said.
Abiy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In December, the government’s task force for Tigray said it had reached a deal with the United Nations in which Addis Ababa would call the shots on access for aid agencies.
Conflict erupted in Tigray on Nov. 4 between Ethiopian federal forces and the party ruling the northern region. Thousands have been killed, millions displaced and more than 50,000 refugees have fled to Sudan.
Abiy’s government declared victory over the rebellious leaders in at the end of November but they vowed to fight on. The United Nations has said there are reports fighting is still going on in various parts of Tigray.
Reuters reported in December that the EU was delaying budget support to Ethiopia over the Tigray crisis, according to internal documents.
Borrell said the Tigray conflict had become far more than an internal “law and order” operation and was now a direct threat to the stability of the whole region.
“We receive consistent reports of ethnic-targeted violence, killings, massive looting, rapes, forceful returns of refugees and possible war crimes,” he said.
Reuters was unable to independently verify events in Tigray as the government is restricting journalists’ access.
“Moreover, there are regional spill-over effects of the conflict, with for instance Eritrean troops being involved in the military operations in Tigray and with Ethiopian troops being withdrawn from Somalia,” Borrell said.
The EU has provided 815 million euros of development aid to Ethiopia over the past seven years, on top of 409 million euros of projects focused mainly on supporting refugees and host communities in the country.
The United Nations said on Thursday there had been major violations of international law in Tigray at two refugee camps, home to people who fled repression in neighbouring Eritrea long before the latest conflict.
It said satellite imagery showed fires burning and fresh signs of destruction at the Shimelba and Hitsats camps.
The U.N. refugee agency, which decried the lack of humanitarian access to the camps, did not say who was responsible, but said there had been additional military incursions over the past 10 days.
“UNHCR seems to indulge, yet again, in another bout of gratuitous & irresponsible smear campaigns against Eritrea,” Eritrea’s Information Minister, Yemane Meskel, tweeted on Friday.
After repeated denials of the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray by both countries, a senior Ethiopian general has since said they had crossed into the northern region uninvited.
Borrell also said there needed to be a de-escalation of tension between Ethiopia and Sudan.
Ethiopia has said it is running out of patience with Sudan’s continued military build-up in an area populated by Ethiopian farmers on the Sudanese side of their disputed border.
Sudan’s foreign ministry said this week that an Ethiopian military aircraft had crossed the border in a “dangerous and unjustified escalation”.
($1 = 0.8252 euros)