UN and Ethiopia reach aid agreement for war-hit Tigray

Aid workers to access region where fighting has hit food supplies and displaced tens of thousands

Ethiopians who fled the Tigray conflict as refugees wait for food distribution at Um Raquba refugee camp in Gedaref, eastern Sudan. Photograph:  Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

Ethiopians who fled the Tigray conflict as refugees wait for food distribution at Um Raquba refugee camp in Gedaref, eastern Sudan. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

 

Ethiopia and the United Nations agreed on Wednesday to channel desperately-needed humanitarian aid to the northern region of Tigray, where a month of war is believed to have killed thousands of combatants and civilians.

Federal troops have been battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and have captured the regional capital Mekelle, and the pact announced by UN officials will allow relief into government-controlled areas of Tigray.

The Ethiopian conflict has forced more than 45,000 refugees to flee into Sudan, displaced many more within Tigray and worsened suffering in a region where 600,000 people already depended on food aid even before hostilities broke out on November 4th.

As hundreds of foreign workers fled, aid agencies had appealed for urgent safe access.

Highlighting the dangers they face, four Ethiopian employees of two foreign aid agencies were killed in a camp for Eritrean refugees in Tigray last month, a humanitarian and a diplomatic source said on Wednesday.

It was unclear who killed them, and there was no immediate comment from Ethiopia’s government nor the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The agencies asked not to be named as they had not yet informed their relatives.

Food is running out for 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray who have fled repression in their own country.

And medics in Mekelle were short of painkillers, gloves and bodybags, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

UN humanitarian co-ordination agency OCHA said the deal would “ensure that humanitarians will have unimpeded, sustained and secure access . . . to areas under the control of the federal government in the Tigray Region.”

Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Hussein confirmed the agreement but gave no further details.

Telecoms partly restored

After phone and internet connections were largely shut down when the war began, telecoms in half a dozen towns in Tigray were partly restored, Ethio Telecom said on Wednesday, including Dansha, Humera and Mai Kadra, all controlled by the military.

Prime minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory after the fall of Mekelle on Saturday, but there has has been little verifiable information from the highland city of 500,000 people since.

TPLF leaders fled for the hills, from where they say they continue to fight. State-run Ethiopian Press Agency published photographs on Wednesday of soldiers posing by a monument to the victory in Mekelle.

Mr Abiy on Wednesday shifted focus to next year’s parliamentary election, meeting with political parties and election officials about the mid-2021 vote, his office said.

His government postponed it this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Tigray went ahead anyway and re-elected the TPLF, a guerrilla movement-turned-political party.

That was one reason for the federal government’s offensive against TPLF leaders, a conflict that may jeopardise political reforms enacted since Mr Abiy took office in 2018.

Mr Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader at 44 and who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for a pact with Eritrea, was pictured in battle fatigues meeting military officers in official photos on Wednesday.

He took leadership after nearly three decades of a TPLF-led national government which had gradually become repressive since its 1991 overthrow of a Marxist regime.

Mr Abiy removed Tigrayans from government and security posts, saying they were over-represented for an ethnic group making up 6 per cent of Ethiopia’s population. The military moved into action when a federal army base was attacked in Tigray.

The TPLF accuses their former military comrade and partner in government of dominating them in order to increase his personal grip over the nation of 115 million people, which is split into 10 regions run by different ethnic groups.

Mr Abiy, who hails from the larger Oromo and Amharic ethic groups, calls the Tigrayan leaders criminals opposing national unity and plotting attacks in Addis Ababa and elsewhere.

Federal police blamed the TPLF, without proof, for a small blast in the capital on Wednesday that injured an officer lightly. There was no immediate response from the TPLF.

“Wars are not like taps that you turn on and then turn off. This is going to be a very long, drawn-out process,” Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi told an online forum. – Reuters