- The European Union (EU) has granted Togo euro 14.6 million to finance the reception and reintegration of the Togolese refugees in neighbouring countries that were fleeing the violence during last year's elections. The EU has withheld development aid and major funding for Togolese projects for over a decade due to a repressive government.
The state-run daily 'Togo Presse' this week quoted Gilbert Bawara, Togo's Minister of Cooperation and NEPAD, as saying the funds will be used to successfully complete repatriation actions, which already had started to get the may Togolese refugees in neighbouring Benin and Ghana to return home.
Minister Bawara indicated that the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and a Togolese body were to "reinforce the actions under way in order to offer better conditions of trust and security, and also build facilities necessary for the reception and reintegration of the refugees."
According to official figures, about 11,500 Togolese refugees have been living abroad, notably in Benin and Ghana, after fleeing violence the erupted when current President Faure Gnassingbé attempted to replace his later father Gnassingbé Eyadéma in February 2005. The process at first was termed a "coup" by follow West African states, but his controversial election later was accepted by the same regional body.
Nevertheless, the "Faure coup" and following elections caused yet another polarisation in the Togolese society, which had been fighting the repressing regime of his father for decades. During the elections, opposition parities and media were gagged, security forces were used against the opposition and regime opponents were murdered - causing a great flow of Togolese fleeing the country.
President Gnassingbé - as his father - has spent much attention on improving relations with the EU, which according to the Lomé accords is obliged to spend large amounts on development aid on Togo and other Asian, African and Caribbean countries. The EU's Lomé obligations were however suspended more than a decade ago due to gross human rights violations and manipulated elections during the Eyadéma regime.
The "coup" by Mr Eyadémas's son - supported by Togo's armed forces - din not help on strained EU relations, and the following controversial elections further enhanced Brussels' feelings that Togo was not on its way towards democracy. President Gnassingbé however has tried to demonstrate that democratic institution s like the judiciary and the press have obtained much improved conditions since his takeover.
Until now, however, the Lomé government has not been able to convince Brussels as the opposition steadily claims it is not seriously taken into consideration when important issues are discussed in Togo. A voluntary repatriation of Togolese refugees that fled the attacks on the opposition, on the other hand, was a too good occasion for the EU to miss out on. The project is seen as visual proof of reconciliation - despite some diehard opposition cries- and could prove a new road for national talks on moving forward with democratic reforms.
Thus, Brussels for the first time since 1993 spends a countable amount on a Togolese project with its euro 14.6 million for refugee repatriation. According to Toglose state media, the deal was signed by Mr Bawara of the EU and Filiberto Cereani Sebregondi, head of the EU delegation in Togo.
If the project works according to its objectives, this certainly may be the entrance for a normalisation between the EU and Togo. Countries like France favour such a normalisation, but Paris remains a majority among European countries still demanding real proof of trust-building from the Lomé government.
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