Over 90% In Ethiopia’s Tigray Need Emergency Food Aid: UN

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 12, 2020 Ethiopian refugee children who fled the Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict wait in a line for a food distribution by Muslim Aid at the Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

 

 

More than 90 percent of people in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region need emergency food aid, the United Nations said Tuesday, as it appealed for $203 million to scale up its response.

The UN World Food Programme voiced alarm that conflict had caused an increase in hunger levels that were already high in the northern region.

“A total of 5.2 million people, equivalent to 91 percent of Tigray’s population, need emergency food assistance due to the conflict,” WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters in Geneva.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray in November to detain and disarm leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the region’s former ruling party.

He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Though he vowed the conflict would be brief, more than six months later fighting continues, reports of atrocities are proliferating, and many leaders are warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe.

The WFP said it had provided emergency aid to more than a million people since it started distributions in northwestern and southern areas of Tigray in March.

“WFP is alarmed at the impact of conflict on already high levels of hunger,” Phiri said.

“We are deeply concerned at the number of people we see in need of nutrition support and emergency food assistance.

“The WFP is calling for $203 million to continue to scale up its response in Tigray to save lives and livelihoods through to the end of the year.”

– ‘Serious’ famine risk –
Last week, a senior UN official warned the UN Security Council that urgent measures were needed to avoid famine in the war-torn region of Tigray in Ethiopia, in a briefing seen by AFP.

“There is a serious risk of famine if assistance is not scaled up in the next two months,” wrote Mark Lowcock, the UN’s top emergency relief coordinator.

He estimated that “over 90 percent of the harvest was lost due to looting, burning, or other destruction, and that 80 percent of the livestock in the region were looted or slaughtered.”

The WFP said the instability was undermining the efforts of humanitarian workers to reach vulnerable communities in Tigray, especially in rural areas.

“A ceasefire and unimpeded access are vital for WFP and all its partners in Tigray to reach all areas and all people desperately in need of life-saving support,” Phiri said.

Meanwhile, the WFP spokesman said the agency was witnessing growing levels of malnourishment among women and children.

WFP found that almost half of pregnant or breastfeeding mothers in 53 villages were either moderately or acutely malnourished, while almost a quarter of all children screened were found to be malnourished.

Eritrean troops, who teamed up with the Ethiopian military, have been implicated in multiple massacres and other atrocities during the Tigray conflict, allegations that Asmara denies.

Ethiopia Replaces Head Of War-Hit Tigray Region

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 10, 2020 A member of the Ethiopian Defense Forces walks away from a damaged military truck abandoned on a road near the village of Ayasu Gebriel, East of the Ethiopian city of Alamata.   AFP

 

Ethiopia announced Wednesday it had replaced the head of the interim administration of its war-hit Tigray region following a performance review.

Mulu Nega, a former higher education official, had been in the role since November, shortly after fighting broke out between government troops and forces loyal to the regional ruling party.

He is being replaced by Abraham Belay, who had been serving as minister of innovation and technology in the federal government, said Billene Seyoum, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

“The appointment is a result of a six-month performance review of the role,” Billene told AFP.

Abraham is a member of Abiy’s Prosperity Party.

Neither Mulu nor Abraham responded to requests for comment late Wednesday.

Abiy announced in November that he was sending troops into Tigray after accusing the once-dominant regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of orchestrating attacks on federal army camps.

READ ALSO: Tambuwal Leads Governors To Resolve PDP Crisis In Cross River

After federal troops took the regional capital Mekele in November, Mulu set about trying to establish an interim government even as fighting raged elsewhere in the northern region.

In an interview with AFP in February, he said he knew Mekele residents had “mixed feelings” about his presence in the office formerly occupied by their toppled leaders.

“They want to have a government take over the governance activities in the region,” he said.

“On the other hand, as we are not elected, they have also some doubts. That’s natural.”

He said he was happy in the job but did not want to stay on for long, planning to leave after elections are held in Tigray.

The region, still partly wracked by conflict, will not participate in national elections planned for early June, and it is unclear when voting will happen there.

Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, declared victory in Tigray in November, but TPLF leaders remain on the run.

World leaders are ramping up pressure on Abiy’s government to pursue a political resolution to the conflict, while Ethiopian officials say fighting is minimal and normalcy is returning.

Over the weekend Abiy’s Council of Ministers approved a resolution classifying the TPLF as a terrorist group, dealing a blow to the prospect of peace talks.

AFP

Eritrean Forces In Tigray Region, Says Ethiopian PM

 In this file photo taken on November 30, 2020 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at the House of Peoples Representatives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to respond to the Parliament on the current conflict between Ethiopian National Defence Forces and the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Amanuel Sileshi / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 30, 2020 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at the House of Peoples Representatives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to respond to the Parliament on the current conflict between Ethiopian National Defence Forces and the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Amanuel Sileshi / AFP

 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted Tuesday that troops from neighbouring Eritrea were present in the conflict-torn Tigray region and suggested they may have been involved in abuses against civilians.

The admission comes after months of denials from Addis Ababa and Asmara, despite mounting accusations from rights groups and residents that soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea had carried out massacres in Tigray.

Abiy sent troops into the semi-autonomous region of Tigray on November 4 after he blamed the state ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for attacks on federal army camps.

The military campaign to unseat the TPLF — which dominated national politics for decades — has led to a drawn-out conflict that has seen brutal atrocities carried out against civilians.

In a wide-ranging speech to parliament, Abiy said the “Eritrean people and government did a lasting favour to our soldiers”, during the conflict, without giving details.

READ ALSO: Congo’s Nguesso Re-elected With 88.57% Of Vote, To Continue 36-Year Reign

“However, after the Eritrean army crossed the border and was operating in Ethiopia, any damage it did to our people was unacceptable,” he said.

“We don’t accept it because it is the Eritrean army, and we would not accept it if it were our soldiers. The military campaign was against our clearly targeted enemies, not against the people. We have discussed this four or five times with the Eritrean government.”

National security issues

Abiy said that according to the Eritrean government, its soldiers had taken over trenches on the border — which had been dug during the bloody 1998-2000 war between the two nations — after they were abandoned by Ethiopian soldiers.

“Eritrea told us it had national security issues and as a result had seized areas on the border” but had vowed to leave if Ethiopian soldiers returned to the trenches.

He said Eritrea argued the TPLF pushed them to enter the battle “by firing rockets” across the border.

In this file photo taken on February 18, 2021 Ethiopian refugees gather to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Tigray People's Liberation Front at Um Raquba refugee camp in Gedaref, eastern Sudan. Hussein Ery / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 18, 2021 Ethiopian refugees gather to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front at Um Raquba refugee camp in Gedaref, eastern Sudan. Hussein Ery / AFP

 

“The Eritrean government has severely condemned alleged abuses and has said it will take measures against any of its soldiers accused of such.”

Amnesty International has said Eritrean troops had killed hundreds in the town of Axum, while AFP spoke to residents of the village of Dengolat, where the church counted 164 dead.

In his speech Abiy accused Amnesty, the United Nations and other agencies of being “part of the TPLF family”.

However he admitted there had been abuses.

“Battle is destructive, it hurts many, there is no question about it. There have been damages that happened in Tigray region, notwithstanding the propaganda and lies, information indicates there have been rapes of women and looting of properties.”

Complex ties

Eritrea, one of the world’s most repressive and secretive nations, gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, and relations quickly deteriorated over territorial and economic disputes.

Five years later the two launched into a bloody war which left 80,000 dead, and led to a diplomatic stalemate long after a peace deal was signed in 2000.

Eritrea remained a bitter enemy of the TPLF, the party which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before falling by the wayside after Abiy became prime minister in April 2018.

Abiy’s appointment led to a spectacular about-turn in relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara, who declared their state of war over by July.

Embassies were re-opened, flights resumed and telephone communications restored for the first time in two decades.

The rapprochement won Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, but there has been little progress in resolving border issues, while hopes the deal would encourage Eritrea to open up have been dashed.

‘We don’t need war’

Abiy meanwhile dismissed fears of an imminent conflict with Sudan, where tensions have been brewing over a contested border region, saying his country had learned from its war with Eritrea.

“Sudan in its current state isn’t in shape to fight with a neighbouring country, it has lots of problems. Ethiopia also has many problems. We don’t need war. It is better to settle it in a peaceful manner,” said Abiy.

The two nations are involved in a border quarrel over the fertile Al-Fashaqa agricultural area, which they both claim as their own.

Sudan’s government said Tuesday it had accepted an offer by the United Arab Emirates to mediate with Ethiopia over the contested region and Addis Ababa’s controversial hydroelectric dam.

 

AFP

Ethiopia Unrest: UN Seeks Donations To Help Refugees In Tigray

A 4-year-old Ethiopian refugee girl poses for a photograph at the Village Eight transit centre which hosts Ethiopian refugees who fled the Ethiopia's Tigray conflict near the Ethiopian border in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on December 2, 2020. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP
A 4-year-old Ethiopian refugee girl poses for a photograph at the Village Eight transit centre which hosts Ethiopian refugees who fled Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict near the Ethiopian border in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on December 2, 2020. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

The United Nations on Tuesday appealed for $156 million to help the tens of thousands of refugees who have fled fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray, again requesting full humanitarian access to the conflict-hit northern region.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said her office had received numerous allegations of rights abuses during weeks of fierce fighting that followed Ethiopia’s government launching a military offensive against Tigray’s dissident leaders on November 4.

Those abuses include “artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extra-judicial killings and widespread looting,” Bachelet said in a statement.

“These reports point to failure by the parties to the conflict to protect civilians,” she said, adding that due to a lack of access, the UN was not able to verify reports on the ground.

READ ALSO: Sudan, Ethiopia Start Border Talks One Week After Clash

The UN refugee agency released a separate statement on Tuesday calling for urgent funding to address a “full-scale humanitarian emergency” sparked by the conflict.

It said that over the last six weeks more than 52,000 refugees have fled Tigray to a remote area in neighbouring Sudan.

That number does not include 96,000 Eritrean refugees who were already in Tigray before the fighting started and have been feared to be running low on food.

The $156 million requested by the UN along with 30 humanitarian partners would allow aid to continue during the first half of 2021, UN spokesman Andrej Mahecic said.

The funding would help the partners “meet the immense humanitarian needs in eastern Sudan and to ensure full preparedness throughout the region,” he told a press conference in Geneva.

Only 30 percent — $46 million — of the requested funds have been received so far.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, declared victory against the regional authorities from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in late November.

However, the TPLF has vowed to fight on and in her statement Bachelet cited reports that clashes have continued.

The UN has repeatedly requested unimpeded humanitarian access across the region, and Bachelet did so again on Tuesday, while saying that two assessment missions were able to enter Tigray the day before.

Bachelet added that the reports of abuses underscored “the need for independent human rights monitors to be given access to Tigray to adequately assess the human suffering resulting from the conflict, verify allegations and to help ensure accountability for violations.”

 

AFP

Ethiopia Offers $250,000 For Help In Finding Dissident Tigray Leaders

In this file photo taken on March 28, 2018 Abiy Ahmed, Chairman of Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) looks on in Addis Ababa. Samuel Gebru / AFP
In this file photo taken on March 28, 2018 Abiy Ahmed, Chairman of Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) looks on in Addis Ababa. Samuel Gebru / AFP

 

Ethiopia on Friday offered a reward in exchange for information that could help locate leaders of the Tigray region’s ruling party, who have been the target of a major military offensive.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced the military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, saying it came in response to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps.

Abiy declared victory after federal forces took the regional capital Mekele in late November, but the UN says clashes persist in the region and TPLF leaders remain on the run.

The military will pay 10 million Ethiopian birr (roughly $250,000 / 205,000 euros) to “any person who knows the exact location of the TPLF junta leadership”, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Lieutenant General Asrat Denero, head of the military’s community information department, as saying Friday.

READ ALSO: Burundi Ex-President Buyoya Dies From COVID-19

Asrat also provided a hotline where citizens could give tips.

Two days after Mekele fell, Abiy told lawmakers that federal forces were monitoring TPLF leaders closely from “the situation room” and would apprehend them soon.

He said TPLF leaders had fled west of the city, though Debretsion Gebremichael, president of Tigray when the conflict started, told AFP at the time that Abiy had the location wrong.

Debretsion and other TPLF leaders have been unreachable for nearly two weeks.

On November 13 federal police announced arrest warrants for Debretsion and 63 other TPLF leaders.

It was not immediately clear Friday if the reward offer applied to all of them.

The fighting in Tigray has left thousands dead, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, and sent tens of thousands of refugees streaming across the border into Sudan.

The UN has been lobbying — so far unsuccessfully — for unfettered access to the region to provide humanitarian assistance.

On Thursday it announced a $35.6 million emergency aid package for civilians caught up in the conflict.

AFP

Four Aid Workers Killed In Ethiopia Conflict

A member of the Ethiopian Defense Forces walks away from a damaged military truck abandoned on a road near the village of Ayasu Gebriel, East of the Ethiopian city of Alamata, on December 10, 2020. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
A member of the Ethiopian Defense Forces walks away from a damaged military truck abandoned on a road near the village of Ayasu Gebriel, East of the Ethiopian city of Alamata, on December 10, 2020. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

Two international aid agencies on Friday said four staff members were killed during last month’s fighting in Ethiopia’s troubled northern Tigray region.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) reported the deaths of three security guards, while the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said one of its staff members had been killed.

An estimated 600,000 people in Tigray were dependent on food aid before the fighting began,  including 96,000 refugees from neighbouring Eritrea.

READ ALSO: Ethiopia Insists It Will Control Aid To Troubled Tigray

When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered troops into Tigray on November 4, following alleged attacks by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces, aid workers were left stranded and vulnerable.

A communications blackout imposed by the government combined with tight restrictions on access to Tigray has made it very difficult for aid agencies to confirm the whereabouts and safety of their staff in the area.

DRC said it was “deeply saddened to confirm the death of three colleagues,” adding that its “workers are at the forefront of the humanitarian imperative to provide assistance to those in need.

“Sadly, due to the lack of communications and ongoing insecurity in the region, it has not yet been possible to reach their families,” a statement said.

In another statement, IRC said it “regrets to confirm the killing of a staff member in Hitsats Refugee Camp in Shire”.

“Our in-country staff are the very heart of our work and are key in our ability to provide support and assistance to our clients,” it said.

“Communication with the area is extremely difficult and we are still working to gather and confirm the details surrounding the events.”

Despite Abiy’s declaration of victory on November 28, the UN and aid agencies have said fighting continues.

 

AFP

Ethiopian Govt Admits Forces ‘Shot At’ UN Team In Tigray

Ethiopia map.

 

An Ethiopian spokesman on Tuesday said that the country’s forces fired on a UN team, claiming they ignored instructions and drove through government checkpoints in the northern region of Tigray.

The shooting came as the UN and aid agencies are continuing to seek access to northern Ethiopia, more than a week after fighting there was declared over on November 28.

“Some of the UN staff were actually detained and some were shot at,” said Redwan Hussein. “They broke two checkpoints to drive to areas where they were not supposed to go, and that they were told not to go. When they were about to break the third one, they were shot at and detained.”

Speaking at a press conference in the capital Addis Ababa, Redwan insisted the UN staffers were to blame for Sunday’s incident close to the town of Shire, claiming they had “indulged themselves in a kind of adventurous expedition”.

“This country isn’t no man’s land. It has a government,” he said.

“If anybody is told not to go, then they have to abide by it. You cannot ignore a government warning and then try to run roughshod (over) everybody,” he added.

Thousands have been killed in fighting that began November 4 between government forces and those loyal to the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Close to 50,000 have fled to Sudan while around 600,000 living in Tigray depended on food handouts even before the fighting began.

Last week the UN said it had signed an agreement with the Ethiopian government guaranteeing “unconditional access for humanitarian assistance”.

However, Redwan contradicted this on Tuesday.

“The agreement we entered is in the belief that the UN would collaborate with us and we the government would call the shots, so we coordinate, we lead, but we need assistance and a partner,” he said.

“For some partners to drive alone, to move alone, isn’t allowed. There is no such thing as unfettered access in every corner of Ethiopia.”

AFP

UN Granted ‘Unconditional’ Aid Access To Ethiopia’s Tigray

Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict rest in the shadow of a warehouse erected by the World Food Programme (WFP) at Village Eight transit centre near the Ethiopian border in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on December 2, 2020. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP
Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict rest in the shadow of a warehouse erected by the World Food Programme (WFP) at Village Eight transit centre near the Ethiopian border in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on December 2, 2020. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

Ethiopia has granted the United Nations access to deliver aid to the northern region of Tigray, following weeks of lobbying amid military operations there, according to an agreement seen by AFP on Wednesday.

The agreement, signed by Ethiopia’s peace minister, comes four weeks after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent in troops and warplanes in a campaign targeting leaders of the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Thousands have died in subsequent fighting, according to the International Crisis Group, while tens of thousands have fled into neighbouring Sudan.

The UN has been warning of a possible humanitarian catastrophe within Tigray, though a communications blackout has made it difficult to assess conditions on the ground.

“We signed an agreement giving unconditional access for humanitarian assistance wherever people are in need” in Tigray, a senior UN official told AFP Wednesday.

A second senior UN official also said it applied to all of the region’s roughly six million population.

READ ALSO: Tigray Leader Vows To Fight On After Abiy Declares Victory

Two assessment missions launched on Wednesday and more are expected soon, the officials said.

The text of the agreement states that “the UN and humanitarian partners” can access “vulnerable populations in (government)-administered areas in Tigray and bordering areas of Amhara and Afar regions”.

Abiy declared victory on Saturday night, saying that military operations in Tigray were “completed” — but the TPLF has vowed to fight on.

Senior Tigrayan official Wondimu Asamnew claimed Wednesday that federal forces were “encountering low-scale warfare all over Tigray” and that pro-TPLF fighters would launch a “full-scale offensive… in the near future”.

Wondimu also said in a statement that the TPLF had carried out a “strategic retreat” without sustaining heavy losses.

It is unclear if the government has control over the entire region, raising questions about whether the UN will actually have full access.

A spokeswoman for Abiy’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Food running out

Before the fighting began, around 600,000 people living in Tigray depended on food handouts, among them 96,000 Eritrean refugees.

The agreement notes that the region was also home to 42,000 malnourished women and children as well as 100,000 internally displaced people.

Food, fuel and cash are in short supply, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, while the International Committee of the Red Cross says basic medical equipment is lacking.

On Tuesday the UN refugee agency warned that Eritrean refugees in Tigray were believed to have run out of food, saying concerns for their welfare were “growing by the hour”.

A 4-year-old Ethiopian refugee girl poses for a photograph at the Village Eight transit centre which hosts Ethiopian refugees who fled the Ethiopia's Tigray conflict near the Ethiopian border in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on December 2, 2020. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP
A 4-year-old Ethiopian refugee girl poses for a photograph at the Village Eight transit centre which hosts Ethiopian refugees who fled the Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict near the Ethiopian border in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on December 2, 2020.
Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

Meanwhile, communications are returning to parts of Tigray.

Ethio Telecom, the country’s monopoly telecommunications provider, said Wednesday that services had partially resumed in cities including Humera, Dansha, Mai-Kadra and Mai-Tsebri.

It said services had fully resumed in the southern Tigray town of Alamata, and that officials were “working to restore telecom services in all areas of the region”.

Caretaker administration

Abiy intends to establish a caretaker administration in Tigray headed by Mulu Nega, formerly a senior official in Ethiopia’s higher education ministry.

On Wednesday Mulu announced administrators had been installed in the Tigray town of Shire, according to a report by the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

Analysts warn, however, that Mulu’s administration could meet resistance from the Tigrayan population.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before anti-government protests swept Abiy to power in 2018.

Since then TPLF leaders have complained of being removed from top positions, targeted in corruption prosecutions and broadly scapegoated for the country’s woes.

Tensions escalated dramatically after Tigray went ahead with regional elections in September, defying a nationwide ban on polls because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal officials declared the Tigray elections “illegal”, while the TPLF dismissed Abiy as an illegitimate ruler.

Ethiopia’s electoral board has said it expects to hold national elections in mid-2021.

Abiy met on Wednesday with political party and civil society representatives to discuss those preparations, according to his office.

Those in attendance discussed issues including “not rushing to elections without putting the necessary foundations in place” and “ensuring the primacy of rule of law preceding the elections”.

No details were provided on how these considerations might affect the timeline.

The delayed elections are seen as a critical milestone for the democratic reforms Abiy promised to deliver when he took office

 

AFP

Tigray Leader Vows To Fight On After Abiy Declares Victory

In this file photo taken on March 28, 2018 Abiy Ahmed, Chairman of Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) looks on in Addis Ababa. Samuel Gebru / AFP
In this file photo taken on March 28, 2018 Abiy Ahmed, Chairman of Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) looks on in Addis Ababa. Samuel Gebru / AFP

 

The leader of the ruling party in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region said Monday his forces were continuing to battle the national army, two days after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared the country’s internal conflict “completed”.

Debretsion Gebremichael told AFP by phone he was determined to remain in Tigray and fight “as long as these invaders are on our land,” raising the spectre of extended hostilities.

Abiy, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, this month ordered military operations against Debretsion and other leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in response to what he said were TPLF-organised attacks on Ethiopian federal army camps.

Thousands have died so far and tens of thousands have fled into neighbouring Sudan.

On Saturday night Abiy claimed victory after federal forces took control of the regional capital Mekele, but “the fighting has continued,” Debretsion said Monday.

He accused Abiy of “trying to deceive the international community as if everything is finished”.

The conflict marks a dramatic escalation of tensions between Abiy and the leaders of the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before anti-government protests swept Abiy to power in 2018.

 

File photo: Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed Ali speaks after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony at the city hall in Oslo on December 10, 2019. 
Fredrik VARFJELL / AFP

 

Abiy has resisted international pressure to end the fighting and accept mediation, saying TPLF leaders needed to be disarmed and apprehended.

On Monday evening US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter he had spoken to Abiy and “urged a complete end to the fighting in Tigray, a start to dialogue, and free, safe, unhindered humanitarian access”.

– Tactical retreat –
Earlier Monday, Abiy told lawmakers TPLF leaders had fled west of Mekele but indicated federal forces were monitoring them closely and would attack them soon.

“I want them to hear me: yesterday evening, around midnight, we saw them from the situation room in the area between Hagere Selam and Abiy Addi,” Abiy said in remarks to lawmakers, referring to two towns west of the Tigray capital Mekele.

“We didn’t attack them at night because as they retreated they took their wives, children and abducted soldiers… But this will not continue.”

Debretsion told AFP he was “around Mekele” but not near Hagere Selam.

He said the TPLF had left Mekele, a city of half a million, because “we didn’t want to see civilian casualties.”

When the conflict broke out, analysts estimated the TPLF could mobilise as many as 200,000 troops.

Debretsion said it still boasted many “experienced fighters” as well as “heavy artillery”.

READ ALSO: Ethiopia’s Army Says It’s In Control Of Tigray Capital

Fighting took place Sunday in the towns of Hawzen and Wukro, north of Mekele, and there were “small unit activities” farther west near Shire, Debretsion said.

There were no new engagements Monday but “probably tomorrow we will have fighting,” he added.

A communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify claims from both sides about the conflict.

– ‘Mekele is ours’ –
As the Ethiopian military bore down on Mekele last week, global concern mounted about a possible bloodbath in a city that, before the conflict, had a population of half a million.

In his remarks to lawmakers, Abiy claimed Monday that soldiers did not kill any civilians as they took over Mekele and other cities in Tigray.

“Mekele is ours, it was built with our own resources. We are not going to destroy it,” he said. “Not even a single person was harmed by the operation in Mekele.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday that hospitals in Mekele were flooded with trauma patients, though it did not specify how the injuries were sustained.

Abiy vowed Monday that Ethiopia would be able to quickly welcome back Ethiopian refugees in Sudan.

He also thanked Eritrea for its support during the conflict, including helping Ethiopian soldiers who at one point were forced to retreat over Ethiopia’s northern border onto Eritrean soil.

As Abiy tries to shift towards helping Tigray recover, Ethiopia’s national human rights body called Monday for telecommunications to be restored and for water, electricity and health services to resume.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which is government-affiliated but independent, also noted “complaints of ethnic profiling” including “forced leave from work” and travel restrictions.

– Rising tensions –
In a marathon four-hour address, his first to lawmakers since the conflict began, Abiy fielded multiple questions about why he had not moved against the TPLF leadership earlier.

The party has complained of being sidelined, targeted for corruption prosecutions and scapegoated for the country’s woes during Abiy’s rule.

Tensions spiked after Tigray held its own elections in September, flouting a nationwide ban on polls because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It then tried to brand Abiy an illegitimate ruler.

Abiy said Monday that when he took office, he was hemmed in by a TPLF-run security and intelligence apparatus.

“My office in general was under the control of other forces. Even the key to my house was controlled by these people, they opened the door, they closed the door, morning and night,” Abiy said.

He accused the TPLF of fomenting internal conflict, including ethnic clashes, throughout the country during his tenure, leaving only Tigray unaffected.

AFP

UN Security Council Holds First Meeting On Ethiopia’s Tigray

UN Security Council meeting on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines/ AFP

 

The UN Security Council’s first meeting on the conflict in Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region ended without members issuing a statement Tuesday.

European members forced the closed-door discussion to be held after African countries pulled out of organizing the meeting at short notice, highlighting divisions over Security Council action on the three weeks of fighting.

“South Africa asked for time so that the envoys can conduct their consultations and refer the matter to the African Union. A statement could complicate the situation,” an African diplomat said after the session.

A European diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Europeans “expressed their concerns, condemned violence of an ethnic nature and demanded protection of civilians,” during the session that lasted one hour 20 minutes.

France, Britain, Belgium, Germany and Estonia — backed by the United States — announced the virtual meeting after South Africa, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines withdrew their request because envoys have yet to travel to Ethiopia.

“At a certain moment, we have to put it on the agenda, even if the Africans don’t like it,” a European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The African Union announced on Friday that three former presidents had been appointed as special envoys to Ethiopia to help mediation efforts between the conflicting parties.

Asked about the Security Council’s lack of decisive action, a UN spokesman said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres supported the African Union is at the forefront of international efforts.

Forces loyal to Tigray’s ruling party have been battling Ethiopian soldiers for nearly three weeks.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ordered the leaders of the northern region of Tigray to surrender ahead of a threatened all-out assault on its capital, Mekele.

Abiy launched the military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, accusing it of attacking two federal military camps in the region, and of seeking to destabilize his government.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed, but a communications blackout has made claims from both sides difficult to verify.

Guterres last week called for the opening of humanitarian corridors to assist civilians caught in the fighting, noting that authorities had so far rejected attempts at mediation.

Over 40,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan, the UN’s refugee agency said Monday.

AFP

UN Security Council To Hold First Meeting On Ethiopia’s Tigray

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 04, 2018 The “Palais des Nations”. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

 

The UN Security Council was due to hold its first meeting on the conflict in Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region Tuesday, amid division between European and African members over whether the closed-door discussion should take place.

France, Britain, Belgium, Germany and Estonia — backed by the United States — announced the virtual meeting would go ahead after African countries pulled out of organizing it.

“They say ‘Africans solutions to African problems.’ It is something that we have to respect only to a certain degree,” a European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“At a certain moment, we have to put it on the agenda, even if the Africans dont like it,” he added, highlighting the Europeans’ impatience over the lack of Security Council action on the weeks-long fighting.

Earlier, South Africa, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines withdrew their request because envoys have yet to travel to Ethiopia, said one African diplomat.

“It is necessary to allow more time for the regional efforts that are being undertaken in this regard,” he had told AFP.

The African Union announced on Friday that three former presidents had been appointed as special envoys to Ethiopia to help mediation efforts between the conflicting parties.

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Forces loyal to Tigray’s ruling party have been battling Ethiopian soldiers for nearly three weeks.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ordered the leaders of the northern region of Tigray to surrender ahead of a threatened all-out assault on its capital, Mekele.

Abiy launched the military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, accusing it of attacking two federal military camps in the region, and of seeking to destabilize his government.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed, but a communications blackout has made claims from both sides difficult to verify.

UN chief Antonio Guterres last week called for the opening of humanitarian corridors to assist civilians caught in the fighting, noting that authorities had so far rejected attempts at mediation.

“We are very worried about the situation in Ethiopia,” the secretary general told reporters in New York, warning of a “dramatic humanitarian impact” including in neighboring Sudan.

“We have been asking for the full respect of international humanitarian law and also for the opening of humanitarian corridors and the truces that might be necessary for humanitarian aid to be delivered,” he said.

Over 40,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan, the UN’s refugee agency said Monday.

AFP

Tigray Unrest: Over 40,000 Ethiopians Flee To Sudan – UN

Ethiopia map.

 

Over 40,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighbouring Sudan as government forces pursue an offensive in the Tigray region, the UN’s refugee agency said Monday.

UNHCR said that as of Sunday, it and the Sudanese government had registered 40,277 people fleeing into Sudan, which is struggling to cope with its own severe economic crisis.

“Refugees arrive exhausted from their long trek to safety, with few belongings and need assistance,” the UNHCR said.

The UN agency’s statement came a day after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave the leaders of a dissident northern region 72 hours to surrender ahead of a threatened all-out assault on Tigray’s capital, Mekele.

Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, launched the military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on November 4, accusing it of attacking two federal military camps in the region, and of seeking to destabilise his government.

Ethiopians arriving in Sudan told AFP they had left behind modest lives as farmers with just the clothes on their backs to escape intense bombings, shootings and knife attacks in Tigray.

Many have been housed in the rapidly growing tent-town of Um Raquba refugee camp, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the border.

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The UN said an estimated 45 percent of arrivals were children and four percent aged above 60, with the total divided into around 43 percent female and 57 percent male.

The UN said it was planning on the basis of some 50,000 people fleeing to Sudan but warns that their numbers could rise if the fighting continues.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed, but a communications blackout has made claims from both sides difficult to verify.

AFP