News Highlights: US contractor accused of espionage for Ethiopia, Germany and Italy clash over migration deal, 2,500 deaths in Mediterranean in 2023

In this week’s News Highlights: US contractor originally from Ethiopia accused of espionage; Conflict in Amhara continues; Attacks against Masalit in Darfur killed thousands, states report; ICC’s responsibility to investigate ongoing violence in Sudan; Violence continues and education institutions damaged in Sudan; SAF leader Al-Burhan meets with Zelensky; Famine and disease spreads in Sudan; Statement released by TPLF urging for extension of ICHREE mandate; 1,329 deaths in Tigray related to hunger confirmed by research; Situation still dire after floods in Libya: Haftar meets Putin; Italy and Germany clash over European Pact on migration; Mediterranean 9 meeting about migration in Malta; ECJ rules that France cannot push back migrants at its borders; and EU starts releasing funds in EU-Tunisia deal. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/US: US contractor accused of espionage
A US contractor originally from Ethiopia, Abraham Teklu Lemma, has been accused of espionage by providing documents to the Ethiopian government. He reportedly had top secret security clearance to access these documents, which according to PBS News, included maps, photographs and satellite imagery of the war in Tigray. The classified national defence information was allegedly transmitted by Lemma in August and September of last year, according to the affidavit. Lemma is accused of transmitting the files to an official of an intelligence service. The “charging papers did not name Ethiopia, but accused Lemma of spying for a country where he was previously a citizen, had family ties and had recently visited” says the Washington Post. The communications “included a discussion of military activities of a rebel group involved in an armed struggle against the government of the Relevant Country”, states the affidavit. The foreign official asked Lemma among others to identify logistics centres and command centres. Lemma continued to access and transfer information into 2023. The affidavit notes that Lemma deposited large sums of cash in bank accounts in the US, coinciding with the transfer of information, and coinciding with his return from trips to Ethiopia. “An FBI affidavit also described military activities consistent with those of armed rebels battling allied Ethiopian and Eritrean government soldiers at the time” states the Washington Post. “In August and September of that year, Lemma allegedly transmitted classified national defence information to the official associated with Ethiopia’s intelligence service, including satellite imagery and information related to Eritrean activities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.” continues the Washington Post. Lemma was arrested on Aug. 24 2023, and charged on the counts of “conspiracy, and gathering or delivering national defence information”. 

Ethiopia: Conflict in Amhara continues
Heavy artillery fire from Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) was reported in Lalibela, Amhara region, last week Wednesday. Residents stated that the ENDF fired from the outskirts of the city on locations in the forest where Fano militia are thought to be hiding. Witnesses also report many arrests in and around the city. Additionally, the 11th edition of the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa has been postponed. The meeting was set to be held in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region. Fano militia have indicated to media that they are not yet defeated. In addition, Dr. Chane Kebede, head of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice opposition party, was reportedly detained by the security forces in Addis Ababa on Sunday. His house and premises of his office were searched. The reason for his detention is not yet clear, but Dr Chane Kebede is ethnically Amhara.

Sudan: Attacks against Masalit in Darfur killed thousands, report says
A weeks-long targeted campaign against members of the Masalit tribe in Darfur killed thousands, including at least 1000 people that are buried in a mass grave in El Geneina. This comes from accounts from 120 witnesses supported by satellite images and photographs collected by Reuters state. The RSF and Arab militias that attacked the Masalit people reportedly referred to them as “slaves”. Mortar fire was specifically directed towards areas where the Masalit live.

Sudan: ICC’s responsibility to investigate ongoing violence in Sudan
Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said that it is the ICC’s responsibility to investigate the latest violence that occurred in Sudan since April, alongside an ongoing investigation of the crimes committed in Darfur since 2005. Khan highlighted that both warring sides talk about the need for justice but no concrete evidence has been brought to the ICC from either general Al-Burhan or Hemedti to confirm their claims. 

Sudan: Violence continues, education institutions damaged
Violent clashes are reported in Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman. In Khartoum, fighting particularly centred around the SAF headquarters. Sources also reported fighting in Nyala, after RSF attacked the city last weekend. The attack, however, was repelled by SAF. A report by the African Centre for Justice and Peace documented the situation in Nyala, South Darfur, between July and September 2023. The report lists names of civilians reportedly killed and injured in various incidents. The report also includes accounts of recruitment of child soldiers by RSF, and accounts of arbitrary arrests, detention and torture by RSF and SAF. Additionally, a rapid gender assessment report by UN Women found that sexual and gender-based violence in Sudan increased significantly since the start of the conflict, particularly in Southern and central Darfur, White Nile, and Khartoum. The report also revealed an increased workload for women who were largely taking over the financial planning of the households in addition to their other responsibilities. According to Research Professional News, more than 100 universities and research institutes have been damaged since the outbreak of war in Sudan. Students and academic staff have been displaced and remote teaching is also not possible due to limited connectivity. Sudan’s national science academy called on the international community of researchers to support Sudanese universities’ staff, researchers and students through possible admission to universities worldwide until the war stops. 

Sudan/Ukraine: SAF leader meets with Zelensky
SAF commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy at Shannon Airport in Ireland. The meeting was unscheduled. Zelensky and al-Burhan discussed “common security challenges, namely the activities of illegal armed groups financed by Russia”, Zelensky stated on X. This comes after the news of drone strikes allegedly organised by Ukraine special forces against RSF troops became public last week. 

Sudan: Famine and disease spreads 
Darfur farmers raise the alarm over an emerging famine if the humanitarian aid is not provided to the people. Alongside the ongoing fighting, the local crop farms are threatened by livestock, left behind by herders, eating and destroying the crops. Security forces cannot control the situation as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reportedly occupy police offices. There are also increasing reports of disease outbreaks. A cholera outbreak was announced by Sudanese medics in Gedaref state with 18 reported deaths and 265 known cases. Three cholera-related deaths were reported from Khartoum. Dengue fever cases are spiking across several Sudanese states with reported 3,398 cases Gedaref, Red Sea, North Kordofan and Khartoum. 

Tigray: Statement released by TPLF urging for extension of ICHREE mandate
A statement by the Central Committee of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) urged for extension of the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE). The statement, released on Monday, also called for further implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement, particularly ensuring that internally displaced people will be able return to their homes. The TPLF recognized that there is a need for an reassessment of the party’s internal situation, programs, and ideology which currently is accompanied by “internal weaknesses”. Additionally, Human Rights Watch has also stated that the EU should issue a draft resolution at the Human Rights Council to continue investigations into violations committed in Ethiopia and call for extension of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE). 

Tigray: 1,329 deaths related to hunger confirmed by research
1,329 hunger-related deaths in Tigray have been confirmed by research carried out at Mekelle University. A sharp increase occurred after the suspension of the food aid in March. The research showed that this number accounts for more than 68% of total deaths of the studied sample. As the research was carried out in nine out of 88 subdistricts of Tigray and 53 out of 643 camps for internally displaced people, the total number is expected to be even higher. Trees and crops on a large area of 15,000 hectares were damaged by tree locusts in the Tigray. The Tigray Agriculture and Natural Resources Bureau confirmed it is one of the largest infestations ever seen in this region. 

North Africa

Libya: Situation still dire after floods
Thousands have been confirmed killed, and many thousands more remain missing, after the floods in Libya caused by the storm Daniel. Around 10% of those killed or missing are estimated to be migrants or refugees. The World Health Organisation puts the estimated death toll on 4,000, but many people remain unaccounted for. Furthermore, UNICEF warns that the effects of the storm on essential services have been devastating. In addition, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees states that 2,500 refugees and migrants are dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea so far in 2023, a large increase from the same period in 2022, when 1,680 were dead or missing.  The UN stated that another 186,000 have arrived in Europe with a total of 130,000 people arriving in Italy while the other 56,000 arrived in Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta. The IOM also released data that showed that so far in 2023 there have been 2,778 recorded deaths. 

Libya: Haftar meets Putin
Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are in control of eastern Libya, has met with Russian president Putin in Moscow. The two discussed the situation in Libya and in the region. It is the first time the two leaders met since 2019. The Wagner militia have heavily supported Haftar in his attempt to overthrow the UN-backed government in 2019. 


EU/Germany/Italy: Italy and Germany clash over European Pact on migration
Italy and Germany have clashed on the EU’s new migration reforms in a Summit about the European Pact on Migration in Brussels on Thursday (28 September), held with the EU’s interior ministers. Although leaders have indicated that there is ‘broad agreement’ the pact which would be set in motion during an acute refugee crisis such as in 2015, Germany and Italy disagree on two main points. The first is the NGO search-and-rescue (SAR) vessels that provide humanitarian assistance in the Mediterranean, which Italy considers “pull factors” which attract more migrants, Germany considers them to be invaluable to save lives. The second is a clause, supported by Italy, that would make lowering the conditions in detention centres acceptable in exceptional circumstances, which Germany objects to. Earlier in the summit, Germany had announced that they would drop their opposition to some of the controversial parts of the new EU migration deal, but disagreements still emerged. Scholz stated at the Summit that “the government also agrees that it will not be Germany’s fault if the last building block of the entire work is not launched for negotiations” as Germany had previously been reprimanded for delaying the negotiations of this new deal due to the opposition from the Green party. Germany has put forward a compromise proposal, which Italy has asked time to consider. 

Med9: Mediterranean 9 meeting about migration in Malta
The Mediterranean 9 (Med9) which includes Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia, will talk about migration as well as difficulties that are rising due to natural disasters after the earthquake in Morocco, floods in Libya and extreme weather conditions in Southern Europe on Friday (29 September), says Euractiv. Prior to the meeting, on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni met in Rome at the funeral of Giorgio Napolitano, ex-Italian president, to ease tensions. According to Euractiv, the French government hopes to send a “clear message” that the migration issue is a European one. Both Italy and France want to increase EU border control at sea, which was included in European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in the 10-point plan. The Med9 will likely request for a larger funding for the Southern block. 

France: ECJ rules that France cannot push back migrants at its borders
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that France’s policy of turning migrants away at its borders breaches the EU’s rules on migrant returns. France closed its borders to Italy due to the amount of migrants arriving in Lampedusa, Italy. The ECJ has ruled that pushbacks of migrants and forcing them back “may only be carried out as a last resort”, according to Politico. Additionally, non-EU citizens without permission can also not be turned away at internal EU borders. EU rules state that an official procedure is needed to return migrants and refugees.

EU/Tunisia: EU starts releasing funds in EU-Tunisia deal
Following the President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Layer’s EU-Tunisia deal that was made in July, the EU is set to start releasing the funding to help with migration management. According to Aljazeera, a first payment of 127 million euros will be made. European Commission spokesperson Ana Pisonero has said that this will be “swiftly” distributed in the “coming days”. Part of the money is earmarked to slow down irregular migration, while another part is for budgetary support. This is in an attempt to regulate migration at Tunisia’s external borders to decrease the number of arrivals.