RIYADH: The EU envoy to Ethiopia has stressed the importance of international co-operation to end the conflict in the Tigray region.
In an extensive interview with Arab News in Riyadh on Sunday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said it was important for the EU to work with Saudi Arabia, given that the Kingdom has good relations with all parties in it. all of Africa.
Haavisto also described the recent Saudi proposal for peace in Yemen as a very positive initiative and reiterated his condemnation of Houthi’s deliberate attacks on civilians in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Mandated by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Haavisto is visiting the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates before traveling to Ethiopia on his second mission as EU envoy.
International co-operation on the issue is very important, he said, citing the dangers of another conflict in a region where disputes are already heated, including Sudan-Ethiopia tensions and disputes between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the construction of the Renaissance Dam. of Greater Ethiopia.
The European Union reacted very early in the Ethiopian confrontation in Tigray and condemned the use of violence, he said. She was certainly very concerned about the new wave of refugees partly coming to the Sudanese side.
Haavisto visited refugee camps on the Sudan side in early February, in addition to holding meetings with Ethiopian leaders in December and February. At the time it was not certain that Eritrean troops were involved in the Tigray events or that militias were causing unrest.
“We have called on Ethiopian leaders for full humanitarian access to all regions in the Tigray, full investigation of human rights violations, dialogue between the parties and a cessation of hostilities,” he told Arab News.
This has been our message to the neighboring country, Eritrea. We have demanded that Eritrean troops be withdrawn from Tigray.
According to Haavisto, during their meetings the EU team and Saudi officials compared notes on the situation in the wider region and agreed to continue exchanging views on developments as well as to consider future opportunities for closer co-operation.
The EU team also held meetings with officials from Saudi humanitarian agencies, he said. It is very important that we also have a positive image for the whole of Africa, for the development and evaluation of those in need of humanitarian assistance, he said. We touched on the situation in Somalia, which is also the burning issue in terms of African issues.
Haavisto sees plenty of opportunities for the Kingdom and the EU to work together. We have certainly appreciated the important role of Saudi Arabia earlier in the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia and also Saudi Arabia the continued support of Sudan during its transition process. Saudi Arabia is a country that has good relations with all parties across Africa, so it is important for the EU to work with Saudi Arabia.
Discussions in Riyadh explored the possibility of a period of calm in Yemen during Ramadan. Stressing that the holy month, just two weeks away, could see more peace talks, Haavisto said: The Saudi leadership has mentioned many times how important it is to have peace in the coming month of Ramadan, and I think everyone is seek it.
I think it should be a common message united by the international community to also bring Houthis to the negotiating tables. We must not accept additional violence, and especially people must think about the civilians and the fate of the civilians in Yemen.
On March 7, more than 40 Ethiopian migrants were burned to death at a Houthi-run detention center in Yemen. Commenting on the atrocity, Haavisto said: We have condemned all attacks by the Houthis against civilians (Yemenis) and innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia, as well as the spread of war in other areas. Totally totally unacceptable.
We are supporting the work of US envoy Martin Griffiths and his proposal on this issue. We have also noted the very positive initiative by the government of Saudi Arabia to (reach) a peace agreement.
This is a moment when we must urge all parties to refrain from any additional violence or any additional bombing, to come to the table to find a negotiated solution. I think this is a war that has been going on for a long time.
On the topic of EU-Saudi relations, Haaavisto said: First, it is important to mention that the EU, I think, is Saudi Arabia’s second largest trading partner. So we have a lot in common in the private sector, a lot of common interests to develop there.
We have closely followed the (Saudi) Vision 2030 (plan), the reform of Saudi society, especially with regard to the role of women, human rights issues, labor law reform issues, and so on, which are positive steps towards the future.
We demand closer cooperation on regional issues. We are fully aware of the good initiatives of Saudi Arabia, such as the Red Sea Council, to cooperate on issues related to the Red Sea. We also took note very positively of Saudi Arabia’s new green initiatives.
We in the European Union are preparing for the upcoming COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow and meeting the climate goals is very important. Also, new environmentally friendly technologies and energy products are something of interest to the EU and Saudi Arabia.
He described relations between the EU and Saudi Arabia as very good, noting that Borrel intends to visit the Kingdom soon. It is very important to have these personal ties between the EU institutions and Saudi Arabia, he said.
The global fight against coronavirus was another topic addressed by Haavisto, who said it was not enough for individuals to be immunized if they were not their neighbors.
“We sometimes use this kind of vaccine solidarity term, because it is not enough for you to be vaccinated yourself,” he told Arab News. You also need to vaccinate your neighbor, neighboring countries and finally the whole world to vaccinate.
Haavisto said the world needs a joint information campaign that takes home the importance of vaccination in fighting the pandemic. Moreover, the world can no longer afford more new coronavirus mutations in countries where the public health crisis is not under control.
“I found a similar opinion here in Saudi Arabia that we need to work on the conditions because it is also an economic issue in some ways in the world that is currently getting economies back to normal once vaccination is working,” he said.
Explaining that mutations could only be stopped once the world was fully vaccinated, he said both the EU and Saudi Arabia could work together. Field health diplomacy and health security are places where Europe and Saudi Arabia can co-operate, he said.
Speaking about steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change, he said: Water scarcity is a very, very important issue in this region. I remember a few years ago, before the war in Yemen, I visited Sanaa and many people said that the city could be one of the first capitals to run out of water totally in this region.
I think already at that time people were talking about the need for new ways of saving water and producing drinking water in environmentally friendly ways, perhaps using solar and other technologies.
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