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Ethiopia 'closing in on itself' amid pressure to end fighting

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By Euronews
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A woman leans on the wall of a damaged house which was shelled as federal-aligned forces entered the city, in Wukro, north of Mekele, March 1, 2021
A woman leans on the wall of a damaged house which was shelled as federal-aligned forces entered the city, in Wukro, north of Mekele, March 1, 2021   -   Copyright  EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP
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The Ethiopian government is "closing in on itself", according to one expert, as it resists pressure from abroad to end the conflict in the northern Tigray region.

The EU and US have been urging the East African country to stop fighting and come back to the negotiating table, but Addis Ababa has so far resisted.

Thousands have died and millions have been displaced since fighting broke out last year, with human rights abuses being well documented.

But Theodore Murphy, director of the Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Euronews that any external pressure is causing the Ethiopian government to develop a "fortress mentality".

"It's difficult in Ethiopia because it's a country that has a long history of defending its sovereignty. It was never colonised," Murphy explained.

"It's not very open to external assistance with these kinds of things, with reaching a political solution, with getting down to negotiations and so a dynamic that's emerged is the more the pressure from the outside world rises for Ethiopia to change, the Ethiopian government is tending to close in on itself. We're seeing a kind of fortress mentality develop."

Fighting began last November after Addis Ababa declared war on the semi-autonomous region controlled by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The party had been dominant in the federal government for decades but refused to join a new coalition led by Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy following his ascent to power in 2018.

The TPLF then complained they were being unfairly treated by the federal government with tensions escalating last year when Tigray held an election despite nationwide ballots being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government then accused the TPLF of attacking a federal military command headquarters — which the party has denied — launching a military offensive next.

Since then, there have been widespread reports that starvation and sexual violence are being used by all sides against people in the region.

"For some reason, sexual violence and gang rape are being used as a weapon against the civilian population," Pekka Haavisto, the Finnish foreign minister told Euronews.

"It's now time to stop this conflict because it's the scale and magnitude... this is something that is causing humanitarian suffering, but also there's a big fear of an increased refugee crisis."

Haavisto added that "we do not see any remarks of conflict going down".

Despite the conflict, the EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has said that the bloc's election observers will still be sent to monitor the country's June elections, “unless the situation deteriorates further”.

The European Commission also recently announced funding of €53.7m in humanitarian aid for Ethiopia after having previously suspended it in December over difficulties in distributing supplies throughout the embattled region.