Saturday

17th Apr 2021

Interview

Cyberattack behind Tigray blackout, says Ethiopia

  • Concrete skeletons of new buildings have mushroomed across the capital, Addis Ababa (Photo: EUobserver)

Ethiopia's ambassador to the European Union says a cyberattack is behind a communication blackout in the Tigray region.

The region was embroiled in fierce battles throughout November between local militias and Ethiopian Armed Forces, forcing tens of thousands to flee into Sudan.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Ambassador Hirut Zemene on Friday (11 December) disputed reports the government was behind the blackout, making on the ground information access difficult.

Instead she told EUobserver recent evidence has emerged of a cyberattack against Ethio Telecom in early November in Mekelle, the seat of the Tigray regional state.

"It is not simple malfunction, it is being worked out and they are saying physically nothing happened to it. Physically it is fine, it was not attacked but you know it is the software that was affected through this cyberattack," she said, noting most of the region is now back online.

The ambassador on Monday (14 December) has since retracted her statement that it was a cyberattack and now claims it was sabotage, resulting in damage to the infrastructure.

The comments come amid reports by international media of civilians caught between an indiscriminate shelling campaign by government forces and government-allied ethnic militias.

Zemene disputed that account as well.

She accused the leadership of the ruling party of the Tigray region, the TPLF, of having used people as human shields in the city of Mekelle.

But she did note some civilians may have been unintentionally attacked by government forces.

"Can we say that there will be a margin of 100 percent of not civilians being attacked? We would be lying," she said.

She also attributed reports of the involvement by Eritrean forces as bogus.

Instead, she said a local textile factory in Tigray was turning out Eritrean uniforms in a scheme devised by TPLF leaders.

Those uniforms were then placed on Eritrean refugees, she said.

"There are about 200,000 refugees of Eritrean origin in Tigray camps in Ethiopia," she pointed out.

The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres recently said Ethiopia's prime minister had told him there is no proof of Eritrean soldiers on the ground.

But a US state department official claimed otherwise, describing as "credible" reports of Eritrean military involvement.

International and independent media is not yet allowed inside Tigray to verify government accounts.

"It will definitely be allowed but it will be a very gradual process," said the ambassador, when pressed.

The fighting has provoked fears of wider instability given Ethiopian forces are also facing off radical militants like the Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Zemene says those forces have remained in place and not recalled back, as reported elsewhere.

Meanwhile, she noted humanitarian corridors have also opened allowing in aid to the region amid plans to bring home some 45,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan.

She said the conflict is now over and that the country is pursuing reforms initiated under the leadership of its Nobel Prize winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed.

The plan is to hold national elections next May, following last month's postponement - which is said to have provoked the initial TPLF assault on a camp housing federal troops.

Those elections and reforms, says Zemene, need to be better understood by the European Union in light of the fighting.

"We want the understanding of the European Union that this is something that can be managed within the capacity of the government with regards to the peace and security situation," she said.

Ethiopia is among the largest recipients of EU development aid, amounting to some €815m.

This article was updated at 12:55 on 14 December 2020 with a new statement from the ambassador contradicting her original statement

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

Exclusive

EU fears 'unravelling' of Ethiopia

The "unravelling" of Ethiopia, millions of new refugees, and warfare spilling to the Red Sea coast - this is what the EU and its regional allies fear, a leaked report says.

Brussels tightens cybersecurity rules days after attack

The European Commission proposed a reform of the bloc's cybersecurity rules . "The time of innocence is over. We know that we are a prime target," warned commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas.

Ethiopia's humanitarian crisis risks getting worse, warns UN

UN high commissioner for refugees Flippo Grandi says immediate access for humanitarian relief is needed in areas torn apart by the war in Ethiopia. He is appealing for an extra $117m of international funds to help refugees throughout the country.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us