By Argaw Ashine, Citizen Correspondent, Addis Ababa — The European Union has asked the Ethiopian government to relax tough rules set for foreign election monitors ahead of next month’s elections.
EU diplomats and the Ethiopian government have been holding discussions since last week, but there is no sign that Ethiopia will back down from its hardline stance.
“We had a discussion with Ethiopian officials, and asked them to allow in EU observers without too many conditions,” an EU official said.
He said the EU had written to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, appealing for easier access for foreign monitors and free and fair elections.
Senior EU officials have signalled the bloc’s intention to observe the elections, but diplomats on the ground said nothing had been decided.
Mr Rene Milas, a spokesman for the EU’s embassy in Ethiopia, said by telephone that he was unaware of any decision to send a mission.
Mr Zenawi recently voiced strong anti-Western sentiments, raising fears that Ethiopia would block foreign observers in next month’s elections.
The Ethiopian National Election Board has issued a code of conduct for observers, which must be followed by all monitors, whether local or international.
US-based election monitoring group Carter Centre announced last month that it would not send a team to Ethiopia. The Carter Centre monitored the 2005 elections, which ended in chaos.
A group of eight local NGOs have formed an alliance to observe the elections, but their plans may be derailed by financial constraints.
The group’s vice-chairman, Mr Kassahun Folo, said the team required nearly $3 million to deploy 40,000 observers across the country, adding that it was almost impossible to raise such a sum in a month.
Ethiopia enacted a law in 2008 that bans foreign-funded local NGOs from monitoring elections.
Ethiopia has over 29 million registered voters, who are expected to cast their ballots in 40,000 polling stations.