Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

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

Get the EU news that really matters

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.

Opinion

For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

Latest News

  1. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive
  2. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  3. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit
  4. Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices
  5. Luxembourg denies blind spot on Nato security vetting
  6. Record rate-profits sees EU banks give shareholders €120bn
  7. Why the EU silence on why Orban's €10bn was unblocked?
  8. Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us