Ethiopia: UN hopes for swift humanitarian access to Tigray | News | DW | 29.11.2020

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Ethiopia: UN hopes for swift humanitarian access to Tigray

The UNHCR has also asked for financial support to help tens of thousands who have fled to neighboring Sudan. Tigray rebels, meanwhile, claimed fighters have shot down a federal military jet and retaken the town of Axum.

The head of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said Sunday he hoped humanitarian access to Ethiopia's northern Tigray region would be granted soon by national authorities.

"It is not possible yet, so I hope it will develop in the next few days," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told an online press conference from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared an end to a military operation in Tigray on Saturday after the army took control of the regional capital of Mekele. Abiy's government had been trying to suppress a rebellion from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a powerful ethnically based party that dominated the region from 1991 until Abiy came to power in 2018.

Grandi said Ethiopia's announcement that it had ended its military offensive "does not mean the conflict is finished."

Later Sunday, Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the TPLF, said his fighters have shot down an Ethiopian military plane and retaken the town of Axum.

Claims from both sides are difficult to verify as phone and internet links to the region have been down and access tightly controlled. 

Read more: Ethiopia: Who is Tigray's leader Debretsion Gebremichael?

Humanitarian crisis in Tigray

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in Tigray since an offensive by Ethiopian forces in the region began on November 4.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Sunday that hospitals in Mekele are running "dangerously low" on supplies to care for the wounded. It said a referral hospital in the city is lacking body bags for the dead and is running low on basic supplies such as gloves.

"The influx of wounded forced the hospital to suspend many other medical services so that limited staff and resources could be devoted to emergency medical care," the ICRC said in a statement.

Read more: Once enemies, Ethiopia and Eritrea ally against Tigray

Grandi said he is also very concerned about the fate of nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees there amid reports that some have been abducted.

"It is my strong appeal for the prime minister of Ethiopia for this situation to be addressed as a matter of urgency," Grandi said.

He added that the UNHCR has appealed to donors for $147 million (€122.8 million) to help support the needs of 100,000 people for a period of six months.

Additionally, according to the UNHCR, nearly 44,000 people have fled the region to neighboring Sudan, which lacks the infrastructure to handle the influx of refugees.

"The sheer number of arrivals is really putting all of us under pressure," UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told DW earlier this month. "The effort now is to get basic supplies to these refugees who are fleeing."

The Ethiopian government has thus far rejected external mediation in Tigray, maintaining the conflict in the region is an "internal affair." Abiy's government said earlier this week it is committed to the "protection and security of civilians" in the area.

Explosions in Eritrea

Meanwhile, six explosions were reported in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, on Saturday night, according to the US State Department. It was not immediately clear if the explosions were related to the Tigray conflict.

The TPLF has accused Eritrea of sending troops into the region to support the Ethiopian operation there. The group, which regards Eritrea as a mortal enemy, fired rockets into Asmara earlier this month.

Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Eritrea.

dv/mm (Reuters, AP)

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