Ethiopia crisis: Aid agencies call for immediate ceasefire in Tigray

An Ethiopian woman who fled war in the northern Tigray region carries her food ration as others queue at the Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, Sudan, 19 November 2020

image copyrightReuters

Aid agencies are calling for an immediate temporary ceasefire in Ethiopia to allow aid to reach civilians affected by the fighting.

The UN wants humanitarian corridors set up following two weeks of conflict between Ethiopia’s military and forces loyal to the political leadership in the northern Tigray region.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the clashes.

At least 33,000 refugees have already crossed Ethiopia’s border into Sudan.

The UN Refugee Agency has said it is preparing for up to 200,000 people to arrive over the next six months if the fighting continues.

Ethiopia has so far rejected calls for talks over the crisis, seeing its operations as an internal “act of law enforcement”.

The conflict is rooted in long-standing tension between powerful regional party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s central government.

When Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed postponed a national election due to coronavirus in June, tension escalated between the two groups. The TPLF sees the central government as illegitimate, arguing Mr Abiy no longer has a mandate to lead the country.

Aid agencies have no access to Ethiopia’s conflict zone in Tigray, but they fear that thousands of civilians may have been killed since fighting erupted at the beginning of November.

On Friday, the TPLF was accused of firing rockets into the city of Bahir Dar in the neighbouring Amhara region. The Amhara government said there were no casualties and no damage caused.

But the reported incident in Amhara, which has a long-running border dispute with Tigray, has raised concerns that the conflict could extend into a wider war after regional forces were sent to support federal troops.

Earlier this week, Ethiopia’s forces captured two towns in Tigray and Mr Abiy said that his army was advancing on the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle. He also suggested that the fighting was coming to an end, saying “the final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days”.

Meanwhile, the UN has raised concerns about the influx of refugees into Sudan, which they say could destabilise a nation already supporting about a million people displaced from other African countries.

The refugees arriving in Sudan, the majority of whom are believed to be children, are hungry and frightened, aid agencies say, and an immediate ceasefire would allow them to help thousands of civilians still trapped inside Ethiopia.

A researcher for the human rights organisation Amnesty International in Ethiopia, Fisseha Tekle, said the conflict must be conducted in accordance with international law, which requires the protection of civilians “including access to humanitarian services”.

“As much as possible, human rights organisations, like Amnesty, should be given access to monitor the human rights situation,” he said.

Aid agencies are appealing for $50m (£38m) for food and shelter for the new arrivals.

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