ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The European Union has postponed nearly 90 million euros in budget support payments to Ethiopia due to the bloc’s concerns over the crisis in the northern Tigray region, according to an internal EU document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The delay appears intended to reinforce the EU’s request for a response from Ethiopian authorities over the bloc’s calls for aid to be allowed into Tigray, where five weeks of war have led to a humanitarian crisis.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman directed requests for comment to the Finance Ministry, which did not immediately respond.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the bloc in Brussels.
The document says “postponing those three budget support disbursements aims at creating political space to assess the current situation and request a response with regard to the EU’s concerns notably related to” humanitarian access, cessation of hostilities and media access.
War between Ethiopian federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) broke out on Nov. 4. The conflict is thought to have killed thousands and displaced more than 950,000 people, according to United Nations estimates, about 50,000 of them into Sudan.
Western nations view Ethiopia as an ally in a volatile region, especially against al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants al Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia. The conflict poses a policy dilemma for Western governments amid reports that civilians have been targeted by both sides, and as many aid groups complain they cannot access the region more than two weeks after the government declared the end of its military operation.
The 27-nation EU is also calling for a cessation of hostilities, investigations into human rights abuses during the conflict, and for journalists to be allowed to visit the region, according to the document, which was authenticated by a senior diplomatic official in Addis Ababa.
The value of EU development assistance to Ethiopia has averaged an estimated 214 million euros per year, according to the bloc’s website.
Phone connections to Mekelle, Tigray’s regional capital, were restored earlier this week and residents told Reuters that food prices are sky high and there is very little running water.
Reuters has been unable to reach residents in other towns, but reports of food shortages and looting are beginning to trickle into Mekelle.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Editing by William Maclean; Additional reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Maggie Fick, Editing by William Maclean)