Fears mount of protracted conflict in Ethiopia as PM Abiy’s government declares war on northern Tigray region.
The United Nations says it is worried about a refugee emergency if more civilians are forced to flee fighting between federal troops and local forces in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, the UN refugee agency’s representative in the country said.
Sudan has received more than 11,000 Ethiopian refugees since the fighting started and aid agencies say they are unable to restock food, medical and other emergency supplies.
The UN is negotiating with both sides in the conflict for humanitarian corridors to be opened, Ann Encontre, UNHCR’s representative in Ethiopia, told the Reuters news agency in an interview.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed embarked on a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) last week, after accusing the regional rulers of attacking a federal military base.
Telephone lines to the region were still down, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) said in its report on the crisis on Thursday, hurting aid operations.
“Transport is not allowed to and from Tigray, as a result of which shortages of basic commodities are reportedly appearing, impacting the most vulnerable first and the most,” the UN agency said.
Aid groups were also concerned about the protection of children, women, the elderly and disabled people, from the military clashes, it said.
Abiy on Thursday said the military offensive had “liberated” the western part of the Tigray region where federal troops have been fighting local forces for a week.
With the region cut off to the outside world, there was no independent verification possible nor immediate response from the TPLF, which governs the northern state of more than five million people.
The Ethiopian leader also said the federal military had found bodies of its members who were tied and shot in Tigray. He did not say how many bodies were found and there was no immediate comment from the TPLF.
Abiy, who at 44 is Africa’s youngest leader, has so far resisted calls by the UN, the African Union and others for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations.
In a related development, Ethiopia’s parliament stripped 39 members, including the Tigray regional President Debretsion Gebremichael, of immunity from prosecution, the state news agency reported on Thursday.
Getachew Reda, a senior TPLF official, also lost immunity, the agency added.
There are widespread concerns the fighting in Tigray could spread to other parts of Africa’s second-most-populous country, and to the rest of the Horn of Africa region.
On Wednesday, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, quoted by state news agency SUNA as he hosted Eritrean foreign minister Osman Saleh, called for a “stop to the fighting as soon as possible” and a return to the negotiating table.