As European governments urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia and critical diplomatic staff are expelled, the EU is becoming increasingly concerned that the escalating civil conflict there risks unravelling the country entirely.
Speaking with EURACTIV, an EU diplomatic source familiar with the situation, said it was becoming ‘dramatic’, with rebel forces advancing on the capital city Addis Ababa and foreign nationals slowly being evacuated.
The source added that the humanitarian situation is quickly deteriorating. “But the EU has so far stayed silent.”
Ethiopia has been in the grips of violence since last November when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched military operations against rebels from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. The assault came after the rebels attacked a military base housing government troops in the country’s northern province.
However, despite the involvement of Eritrean forces fighting alongside the Ethiopian federal forces, there is no sign of a military victory over the rebels, who have made a series of advances.
Rough estimates put the death toll at more than 100,000 and reports of massacres, sexual violence, and famine affecting 400,000 people are widespread.
France, Ireland and the UK have all urged their nationals currently living in Ethiopia to leave the country as soon as possible, warning that the deteriorating security situation could soon lead to the closure of Bole airport in Addis Ababa.
On Monday, Irish Foreign minister Simon Coveney said that four of Ireland’s six diplomatic staff had been expelled over criticism of human rights abuses and atrocities committed by Ethiopian federal forces during the civil war with Tigrayan rebels.
The US has imposed sanctions on political and military figures it believes are responsible for escalating the war and committing atrocities. The EU is still considering whether to do the same.
Coveney told domestic lawmakers in Dublin that “the EU does not have a collective position on that yet, but is looking at its options”.
The EU, the US, and the wider international community continues to call for an immediate ceasefire. Earlier this week, Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said that “the time is not to move forward on the battlefields but to open a political dialogue and ease tensions for the benefit of all Ethiopians.”
The EU has blocked $107 million in budget support to Ethiopia but says it will continue to supply humanitarian aid, despite continued difficulties in aid reaching those in need.
In a telebriefing with journalists earlier this week, the United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman warned that “nascent progress” in talks with Ethiopia’s warring sides towards a ceasefire risked being outpaced by “alarming” military developments.
“Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goals by military force and believe they are on the cusp of winning,” he said.
Abiy has rejected calls from the international community for a ceasefire and national dialogue with the TPLF, instead doubling down on the need to secure a complete military victory over the Tigrayan rebels.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]