Ethiopia’s “siege” on its restive Tigray region is creating a “man-made famine”, the European Commission has warned.
“This is not a ceasefire, it’s a siege and starvation is being used as a weapon of war,” EU crisis-management commissioner Janez Lenarčič said in the European Parliament on Tuesday (6 July).
“Famine is now a reality in Tigray for an estimated 900,000 people and another 1 million people are just one step away … This famine is entirely man made and it’s a disgrace to those who are responsible for it,” he added.
The “siege” has seen Ethiopia close Tigray’s borders, ban flights, destroy road and rail infrastructure, cut telecommunications, and prevent the entry of international aid workers, he said.
“Atrocities”, such as systematic rape and extra-judicial killings, were also being seen in the conflict, in what “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”, Lenarčič added.
Ethiopia recently announced a ceasefire after rebel forces in Tigray captured the regional capital, Mekelle, and other towns.
Anže Logar, Slovenia’s foreign minister, also told MEPs on Tuesday the fighting was now “reduced in intensity, probably as an indication that the EDF [Ethiopian Defence Force] has withdrawn from most parts of the territory” and was “putting up little resistance”.
Allied Eritrean forces had also retreated to border regions in the north of Tigray, while the government-allied Amhara militia had retreated to western areas, he said.
But after eight months of war, 91 percent of the population was “in need of urgent assistance”, he estimated, speaking on behalf of Slovenia’s EU presidency.
“We urgently need a full ceasefire by all parties,” Logar said.
The EU has suspended direct budgetary aid to Ethiopia and threatened to blacklist officials who obstructed aid workers.
It was also spending some €118m on refugees who had crossed the border into neighbouring South Sudan, Lenarčič said.
And it has twice sent a special envoy, Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, to try to broker peace talks and humanitarian access.
But his visits have given little cause for hope.
“When I met the Ethiopian leadership in February they really used this kind of language, that they are going to destroy the Tigrayans, they are going to wipe out the Tigrayans for 100 years,” Haavisto told press on 18 June.
“I think that’s very obvious, that we have to react, because it looks for us like ethnic cleansing. It is a very, very serious act if this is true,” he said.
Haavisto’s comments were a “hallucination of sorts or a lapse in memory of some kind”, the Ethiopian foreign ministry said at the time.