EU crisis envoy urges Ethiopia to restore Tigray communications

UM RAQUBA, SOUDAN (AFP) – The European Union’s (EU) Crisis Management Commissioner on Thursday urged the Ethiopian government to restore communications in its northern Tigray region and called on both sides to cease hostilities.

“I urge the Ethiopian authorities to lift the communication blockade,” Janez Lenarcic said at Um Raquba camp in neighbouring Sudan, where he spoke with Ethiopian refugees who had fled their homeland over the last month.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last month ordered military operations against the northern Ethiopian region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in response to what he said were attacks on Ethiopian federal army camps.

Tens of thousands of refugees have since poured into eastern Sudan, with many complaining that they have not been able to re-establish contact with those left behind or lost on the scramble to leave due to a communications blackout.

“I spoke with a number of refugees in this camp today and what is perhaps most painful to hear is that they have zero information about their relatives and friends who stayed behind,” Lenarcic said.

Abiy last Saturday claimed the conflict was over after federal troops took control of the Tigrayan capital, Mekele, but the TPLF threatened a full-scale counter-offensive on Wednesday.

Lenarcic also urged Ethiopia’s government to provide access for humanitarian workers and goods, while calling on both sides to “cease the hostilities”.

Ethiopia has formally granted the United Nations (UN) access to deliver aid to Tigray, according to an agreement seen by AFP on Wednesday. The agreement states that “the UN and humanitarian partners” can access “vulnerable populations in (government)-administered areas in Tigray”.

European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic speaks with Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict during his visit to Um Raquba reception camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref province. PHOTO: AFP