Ethiopia grants UN access to deliver humanitarian aid to Tigray region

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

The agreement, signed by Ethiopia’s peace minister, allows for “unimpeded, sustained and secure access for humanitarian personnel and services to vulnerable populations in [government-] administered areas in Tigray and bordering areas of Amhara and Afar regions”.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced military operations against leaders of Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), on November 4, saying they were in response to TPLF-organised attacks on federal army camps.

Thousands have died in subsequent fighting and tens of thousands have fled into neighbouring Sudan.

The government blocked phone and internet connections and restricted access to Tigray, making it difficult to assess conditions within the region.

The UN has been warning for weeks about a possible humanitarian catastrophe.

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

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

A senior UN official told AFP Wednesday the aid agreement would allow the UN and humanitarian partners to administer assistance “wherever people are in need”.

The officials said needs assessments would begin “as soon as we get clearance from our security staff”.

Caretaker administration

On Saturday night Abiy declared military operations were “completed” after federal forces took control of the regional capital Mekele.

Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict : PM Ahmed claims victory

The TPLF leadership, however, has vowed to fight on and says combat continues in multiple locations.

Tigray head Debretsion Gebremichael said Tuesday that fighting persisted in at least three locations, two of which were “around Mekele” and another near the town of Wukro, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north.

The communications blackout has made it impossible to verify claims from both sides on how the fighting is going.

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

On Wednesday Mulu announced administrators had been installed in the town of Shire, located roughly 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of Mekele, according to a report by 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 an illegitimate ruler who no longer had authority to make decisions affecting the region.


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UN warns food supply exhausted for nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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The United Nations says food has now run out for the nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea who have been sheltering in camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has been cut off from the world for nearly a month amid fighting.

“Concerns are growing by the hour,” U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. “The camps will have now run out of food supplies – making hunger and malnutrition a real danger, a warning we have been issuing since the conflict began nearly a month ago. We are also alarmed at unconfirmed reports of attacks, abductions and forced recruitment at the refugee camps.”

Wednesday marks a month since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that fighting had erupted in the Tigray region between federal forces and regional ones, as each government now regards the other as illegitimate due to a dispute over holding elections during the pandemic.

Communications and transport links to the Tigray region of 6 million people have been severed, and the U.N. and others have pleaded for access to deliver badly needed food, medicines and other supplies. 

Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the Tigray regional leaders, who are on the run but say they continue to fight even after Abiy over the weekend declared victory in the deadly conflict. 

Under growing international pressure, Abiy on Monday said that “my message to friends of Ethiopia is that we may be poor but we are not a country that will negotiate our sovereignty. Threatening Ethiopia for coins will not work.”

Ethiopia’s government has said it will create and manage a “humanitarian corridor” for the delivery of aid, but the U.N. wants access that is neutral, unhindered and immediate.

UN: two million in Tigray need assistance

The U.N. has said some 2 million people in Tigray now need assistance — a doubling from the number before the fighting — and some 1 million people are displaced, including more than 45,000 Ethiopians who have fled into Sudan as refugees.

>> ‘A race against time’: Sudan struggles with refugee influx from Ethiopia’s Tigray region

The 96,000 Eritrean refugees are in an especially precarious position. They are in camps in Ethiopia near the border of their homeland, Eritrea, which they fled, and reports have emerged that some have been attacked or abducted. The U.N. refugee chief has warned that, if true, any such actions “would be major violations of international norms.”

Eritrea has remained almost silent as the Tigray leaders accuse it of joining the conflict at Ethiopia’s request, which Abiy’s government has denied.

Some 1,000 of the Eritrean refugees have arrived in the Tigray regional capital, Mekele, looking for food and other help, the International Committee of the Red Cross said over the weekend.

“For almost two decades, Ethiopia has been a hospitable country for Eritrean refugees but now we fear they are caught in the conflict,” Baloch said. “UNHCR appeals to the government of Ethiopia to continue to fulfill its responsibility in hosting and protecting Eritrean refugees and allow humanitarians to access people who are now desperately in need.”

In Mekele, which the Ethiopian military has said is under its “full control” after its offensive last week, “aid workers report that people have been forced to rely on untreated water to survive following the damage and destruction of water infrastructure,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday. “Our humanitarian colleagues are also warning that it is critical that essential supplies and services be restored immediately in Mekele and across the Tigray region.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underscored that need in a phone call with Abiy on Sunday, Dujarric said.


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Rockets target Eritrea capital after Ethiopia declares victory in Tigray

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Rockets launched from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region targeted the capital of Eritrea several hours after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared military operations in the region were over, diplomats told AFP on Sunday.

It remained impossible to independently verify whether the regional capital Mekele was completely under federal government control, though a military spokesman told AFP operations were proceeding “very well”. 

The US embassy in the Eritrean capital Asmara reported early Sunday “six explosions” had occurred in the city “at about 10:13 pm” Saturday.

Two Addis Ababa-based diplomats told AFP multiple rockets appeared to have targeted Asmara’s airport and military installations.

>> Tigray conflict threatens to ‘catalyse’ tensions elsewhere in Ethiopia

It marked the third time Asmara has come under fire from Tigray since Abiy ordered military operations against leaders of the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). 

The TPLF has claimed responsibility only for the first attack two weeks ago. 

It said Asmara was a legitimate target because Ethiopia was enlisting Eritrean military support for its campaign in Tigray, something Ethiopia denies.

As with the previous attacks it was unclear where the rockets landed and what damage they might have caused.

Eritrea is one of the world’s most secretive countries and the government has not commented on the strikes. 

Conflict ‘completed’

Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced November 4 he was sending federal troops into Tigray in response to attacks by pro-TPLF forces on federal army camps.

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

>> ‘A race against time’: Sudan struggles with refugee influx from Ethiopia’s Tigray

Thousands have died in the fighting and tens of thousands of refugees have streamed across the border into Sudan.

On Saturday night, Abiy declared military operations in Tigray “completed” after the army claimed control of the regional capital Mekele, a city of half a million before the conflict broke out.

Tigray has been under a communications blackout throughout the conflict and media access has been restricted making it impossible to verify Abiy’s claim.

Little news filtered out of the city Sunday even through official channels.

A military spokesman, Gen Mohamed Tessema, told AFP that operations were proceeding “very well” and that soldiers were “doing their work peacefully”, but said he could offer no details.

State television stuck to its usual Sunday programming of talk and music shows, while Tigray regional television did not appear to be broadcasting at all. 

The lack of clarity on the situation in Mekele did not preclude some small-scale celebrations Saturday night in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, and the city of Gondar, in the Amhara region south of Tigray.

“People were out celebrating all night. They fired their guns into the air until midnight and people were shouting, ‘We won!'” said Gondar resident Edom Asmare.

Amhara and Tigray have been embroiled in land disputes for decades, and Amhara special forces have played a central role in securing parts of Tigray that are now under federal control.

Next steps

The TPLF has considerable military assets, and at the outset of the conflict analysts estimated it could mobilise 200,000 troops.

After securing control of western Tigray and giving TPLF leaders a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender, Abiy announced Thursday he had ordered a “final offensive” on Mekele.

Global fears mounted over a bloodbath, and heavy shelling was reported in Mekele earlier on Saturday. 

But in the government’s telling, little fighting actually occurred, suggesting TPLF leaders opted to retreat.

Abiy said Saturday that police were working to apprehend the party leadership, who were not reachable Sunday, their whereabouts unknown. 

The TPLF has previously vowed to fight on as long as pro-Abiy forces have any kind of presence in Tigray, and analysts have warned it could shift gears to adopt insurgency-style tactics.

Abiy also said his government would focus on rebuilding Tigray and providing humanitarian assistance to the population of six million.

Displacement is believed to be widespread within the region, which has suffered multiple rounds of air strikes and at least one massacre that killed hundreds of civilians. 

The United Nations has spent weeks lobbying — so far unsuccessfully — for full access.

 Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said Saturday night it was clear the conflict had taken a “heavy toll”, even if details remained unknown.

“The UN should be conducting an independent international investigation into abuses committed by all sides since the beginning of the conflict, with the mind to pushing for accountability,” she said.


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Ethiopian military has taken ‘full control’ of Tigray capital, chief of staff says

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Ethiopian federal forces have taken “full control” of the Tigray region’s capital Mekelle, the military’s chief of staff Birhanu Jula said in a statement posted on the military’s official Facebook page on Saturday evening.

Authorities had said earlier that government forces were in the final stages of an offensive in the region and would take care to protect civilians in Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people.

There was no immediate comment from the Tigrayan forces in the northern region who have been fighting government troops.

Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since communications links to the region have been down and access has been tightly controlled.

Thousands have been killed since fighting started on November 4, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner – ordered military operations against Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

>> Tigray conflict threatens to ‘catalyse’ tensions elsewhere in Ethiopia

Tens of thousands more have streamed across the border into Sudan, and displacement within Tigray is believed to be widespread. 

Eritrea drawn in

Earlier on Saturday, the Tigray regional government accused Abiy of teaming up with Isaias Afwerki, president of neighbouring Eritrea, for the assault on Mekele.

“The Tigray regional state would like it to be known to friends and enemies alike that it will give proportional response to the massacres and property damages being done by those fascists,” it said. 

Ethiopia has denied enlisting Eritrean military support against Tigray but has acknowledged using Eritrean territory.

>> ‘A race against time’: Sudan struggles with refugee influx from Ethiopia’s Tigray

Residents of the border city of Humera in western Tigray told AFP that shells fired from Eritrea hit both residential and commercial structures during fighting earlier this month.

At least one rocket fired from Tigray targeted Eritrea’s capital Asmara on Friday night, regional diplomats told AFP. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

The TPLF claimed responsibility for rockets fired towards Asmara two weeks ago, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack. 

The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018, and it fought a brutal border war with Eritrea that killed tens of thousands between 1998 and 2000.

Abiy won his Nobel in large part for initiating a rapprochement with Isaias in 2018. 

Concern for civilians

Global concern about the conflict has heightened in recent days with world leaders and human rights groups warning of possible rules of war violations. 

The United Nations has spent weeks lobbying — so far unsuccessfully — for full access to Tigray.

Abiy’s office said this week it would open a “humanitarian access route”. Hundreds of UN and international NGO workers are currently in Mekele, but they are grappling with shortages of food, cash and other essentials. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had received “1,300 requests from people in Ethiopia and abroad frantically looking to contact their relatives,” adding, “We know this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Pope Francis on Saturday tweeted for “everyone to pray for #Ethiopia where armed clashes have intensified and are causing a serious humanitarian situation”. 

Abiy’s government has said the military campaign in Tigray was triggered by attacks by pro-TPLF forces on federal army camps in Tigray in early November. 

Abiy has repeatedly snubbed international calls for a halt to fighting and negotiations with TPLF leaders, saying they need to be disarmed and apprehended. 

On Friday, he met with three African ex-leaders — Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa — dispatched by the African Union as mediators.

An AU statement said Abiy told envoys that military operations in Tigray “would not last long”.

The military expects to take control of Mekele “within a few days”, according to a report Saturday from state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Eritrea hit by rocket fire as Ethiopia presses ahead with Tigray offensive

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Eritrea’s capital came under fire from Ethiopia’s breakaway Tigray region Friday, raising fears that Ethiopia’s internal conflict could spread as leader Abiy Ahmed resisted calls for dialogue.

For more than three weeks now, Ethiopia and Tigray have engaged in fierce fighting that the International Crisis Group said Friday had left thousands dead “including many civilians as well as security forces”.

On Friday night, at least one rocket fired from the northern Tigray region targeted neighbouring Eritrea, four regional diplomats told AFP.

Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, announced Thursday a “third and final phase” in his campaign against leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Global concern remains centred on the half a million residents of Mekele, Tigray’s regional capital, which the army says it has encircled ahead of the threatened attack.


World leaders and human rights groups have warned such a strike could violate rules of war and were calling for urgent mediation.

Pope Francis was among those worried about the intensifying fighting, growing loss of life and displacement, Vatican media head Matteo Bruni said Friday.

Abiy announced military operations in Tigray on November 4 after months of friction between his government and the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.

The prime minister has refused to negotiate with the TPLF and dismissed calls for dialogue as “interference” in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

On Friday he met with three African ex-leaders — Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa — dispatched this week by the African Union as mediators.

‘Enforce rule of law’

In a statement issued after their meeting in Addis Ababa, Abiy said he appreciated “this gesture and… the steadfast commitment this demonstrates to the principle of African solutions to African problems”.

Even so, the government has a “constitutionally mandated responsibility to enforce rule of law in the region and across the country,” his office said in a statement.

“Failure to do so would further a culture of impunity with devastating cost to the survival of the country,” it said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres welcomed the talks with the AU envoys and urged all parties to “peacefully resolve the conflict”.

The UN Secretary-General also stressed the need “to ensure the protection of civilians, human rights and access for humanitarian assistance to the affected areas”.

The Tigrayan government, meanwhile, said Friday the federal army was bombarding towns and villages and inflicting heavy damage, although it did not specifically mention Mekele.

“Our struggle will continue from every direction until the self-determination of the People of Tigray is guaranteed and the invading force is driven out,” Tigrayan authorities said in a statement read on regional television.

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

Hostilities have erupted in a year when the 55-member AU — which is headquartered in Addis Ababa — resolved to play a more prominent role in resolving conflicts across the continent under the slogan “Silencing the Guns”.

Fresh strike on Eritrea

At least one rocket fired from Tigray targeted neighbouring Eritrea Friday night, four regional diplomats told AFP, the second such attack since Ethiopia’s internal conflict broke out earlier this month.

There was no immediate confirmation of how many rockets were fired, where they landed, and any casualties or damage caused.

The TPLF has accused Ethiopia of enlisting Eritrean military support in the fighting, a charge Ethiopia denies.

The group claimed responsibility for similar strikes on Eritrea two weeks ago, but there was no immediate comment from its leaders Friday.

Abiy, who ordered the “final” offensive on TPLF forces in Mekele after the lapsing of a deadline for their surrender earlier this week, said “great care” would be taken to protect civilians and spare the city from severe damage.

Humanitarian crisis                  

The prospect of a full-scale attack accelerated diplomatic efforts this week to resolve the conflict, with the UN Security Council holding its first meeting on Tigray and US and European officials urging restraint.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who met his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in Paris on Thursday, called for urgent measures to protect civilians as the humanitarian fallout from the crisis worsened across the region.

The UNHCR said Friday that nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray could run out of food as early as Monday if supplies could not reach them.

In eastern Sudan, meanwhile, where more than 40,000 refugees have escaped the fighting in Tigray, local authorities are struggling to meet the sudden surge in demand for food, shelter and other life-saving essentials.



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