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US, EU Urge Ethiopia to restore basic services to the Tigray region

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Mike Hammer and Annette Weber meet Tigray leaders in Mekelle, Tigray this week. [Photo: Getachew K Reda]

ADDIS ABABA — U.S. and European Union special envoys for the Horn of Africa have called on Ethiopian authorities to restore basic services to the Tigray region in order to encourage peace talks with rebels. The envoys have just completed their first trip to the region.

The officials have expressed support for attempts by the African Union to broker peace talks between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, and the federal government, after nearly two years of conflict.

In a joint statement issued after returning from Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, on Tuesday, Mike Hammer, the U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, and his European counterpart, Annette Weber, also called for services to be restored to the region.

Tigray has been without access to the phone, internet, or bank services since federal forces withdrew in June of last year, sparking accusations of a government-imposed "blockade."

The federal government has previously said it is unable to restore services in Tigray because it is unable to safely send engineers to the region, which is under TPLF control.

But in their statement, envoys Hammer and Weber said they had been handed a letter from TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, containing “security guarantees” for workers needed to restore services.

“With this security assurance, there should be no obstacle for the restoration of services to begin,” the envoys said.

Last week, the Ethiopian prime minister’s national security adviser, Redwan Hussein, said the government was ready for talks “without preconditions,” but the TPLF’s Debretsion has said phone and banking services should be restored before negotiations can begin.

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