Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 6 – Ethiopia’s parliament on Thursday designated the former ruling party of Tigray a terrorist organisation, a move critics fear could stoke persecution and frustrate efforts to assist those in the war-hit region.
The resolution, passed overwhelmingly in a parliament dominated by the ruling party, also applied the terrorist designation to the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an armed group active in other parts of the country.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has scheduled elections for June 5 despite the grinding conflict in Tigray and brutal ethnic violence in other parts of the country, which the OLA is accused of being involved in.
The terror designations were approved by Abiy’s Council of Ministers over the weekend, and deal a blow to the prospect of peace talks with the TPLF six months after the army entered Tigray to disarm and detain its leaders.
Attorney-General Gedion Timothewos said ordinary civilians would not be affected by the terror listings, and warned external actors against collaborating with the groups in question.
The US-based Tigray Center for Information and Communication said the designation would lead to “mass arrests” and provide cover for greater persecution of the minority group.
“This step was taken to provide prevalent ethnic profiling of Tigrayans and the criminalization of advocacy regarding the war on Tigray with a legal veneer,” the group said in a statement.
Abiy, a Nobel Peace laureate, has come under pressure over the conflict in Tigray, with the international community warning of a growing humanitarian disaster in the northern region.
The UN relief agency OCHA said aid provision in Tigray was based on needs, and “engagement with parties –– regardless of their national designation –– is intended strictly for humanitarian purposes”.
“We expect that the humanitarian exceptions are upheld and respected, and that the protections necessary to deliver humanitarian aid and assistance are extended to all humanitarian actors,” OCHA said in a statement to AFP.
The OLA, meanwhile, has been accused by the government of massacring civilians in the Oromia and Ahmara regions — allegations the group has denied.