Ethiopia aid delayed amid reports Tigray fighting continues – UN

Continued fighting in many parts of Ethiopia’s Tigray region is hindering efforts to deliver aid, the UN says.

Millions of people are said to be running out of food and medicines.

UN officials told AFP there was still no access on Friday, despite a deal allowing “unimpeded” humanitarian access to government-controlled areas.

The military entered the regional capital Mekelle last weekend and said the month-long conflict with forces of the TPLF group was over.

Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed in the fighting with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, with a wave of refugees fleeing into Sudan.

The BBC managed to speak on Thursday to people in Mekelle who said “fighting is still going on in places near the city”. The TPLF says it is still fighting.

Ethiopia’s minister in charge of democratisation, Zadig Abraha, dismissed this, saying “there is no war”.

Getachew Reda, a member of the TPLF Executive Committee, told the BBC the situation in Mekelle was “very tense”.

“People have no appetite whatsoever to countenance the invading forces,” he said.

TPLF troops had withdrawn from Mekelle to spare the city a massive bombardment from the attacking forces, he said, but fighting was taking place on the city’s outskirts.

“My forces are fighting for the self-determination rights of their people. They are fighting gallantly and heroically and there is no reason why they should surrender,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

However he said the TPLF was ready to negotiate.

“While we would not submit to any arm-twisting, we remain beholden to the need for peace,” he said.

‘No aid before next week’

Saviano Abreu, spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian co-ordination office, told AFP: “We have reports of fighting still going on in many parts of Tigray. This is concerning and it’s a complex situation for us.”

On Wednesday, the UN announced it had reached an agreement to deliver aid in areas of Tigray that were government-controlled.

But as of Friday, security assessments were still being conducted and three UN officials told AFP that aid was not expected to arrive before next week.

“We have been granted this access, this agreement with the federal government. But we also have to have the same kind of agreement with all parties to the conflict to make sure we actually have unconditional free access to Tigray,” Mr Abreu said.

Among those in need of urgent aid are some 96,000 refugees who fled persecution and compulsory military service in neighbouring Eritrea and have been living in camps in Tigray.

Their camps are believed to be running out of food. There are also unconfirmed reports of attacks and abductions.

Ann Encontre, head of the UN refugee agency in Ethiopia, said it was urgently trying to get food, medicines and other supplies to the refugees, and assess “very grim” reports on the security of the camps.

“We’ve heard of deaths of refugees, we’ve heard of some being forced into conscription. We’ve heard of abductions,” she told AFP.

Communications blackouts since the start of the fighting have made it difficult to verify such reports.

Why are the government and TPLF fighting?

The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s military and political life for decades before PM Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018 and pushed through major reforms.

Last year, Mr Ahmed dissolved the ruling coalition, made up of several ethnically based regional parties, and merged them into a single, national party, which the TPLF refused to join.

The feud escalated in September, when Tigray held a regional election, defying a nationwide ban on all polls imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Abiy responded by calling the vote illegal.

The TPLF sees Mr Abiy’s reforms as an attempt to hand his central government more power and weaken regional states.

It also resents what it calls the prime minister’s “unprincipled” friendship with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

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