ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – A top European official has ruled out the possibility of the EU interfering in Ethiopia’s internal matters, local media reported Wednesday. 

According to a report by Ethiopian broadcaster FANA, the assertion came from Janez Lenarcic, EU commissioner for crisis management, during a meeting with Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, in Brussels.

“The EU has no intention of interfering in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs,” the report quoted Lenarcic as saying, citing a statement by the deputy prime minister’s office.

The EU official also urged the Ethiopian government to pay due attention to the safety of civilians during its ongoing operation in Tigray, it added.

While Lenarcic’s own statement after the meeting did mention this second point, it said nothing about the EU’s views on whether the conflict is Ethiopia’s internal matter.

“The only solution lies in the urgent cessation of hostilities. Until this is not the case, the threat of serious destabilization of Ethiopia as well as the wider region remains,” read the statement.

“The EU considers Ethiopia as a key partner in Africa and wishes to see the country as a peaceful, democratic and prosperous place for all of its population.”

The official stressed that humanitarian workers must have unrestricted access “to all areas affected by fighting.”

“Any party in the conflict must protect civilians and ensure their safe and free movement in accordance with International Humanitarian Law,” Lenarcic said.

Heavy fighting has raged in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region since Nov. 4, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration launched an offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), saying the renegade group had attacked military installations.

Along with mounting casualties, the escalating conflict has displaced thousands in Tigray, with the UNHCR estimating that at least 40,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan so far.

After capturing key towns over recent days, Ethiopian forces have now encircled Tigray’s capital Mekelle and premier Abiy has given TPLF leaders a 72-hour ultimatum – ending Thursday – to surrender.

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