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Ethiopia forces 2 NGOs to stop work

August 4, 2021

The UN humanitarian chief has condemned Ethiopian government accusations that aid workers are biased in favor of rebel forces in Tigray. Only one 50-truck convoy has been permitted into the war-hit region since November.

Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray region queue to receive food aid
Hundreds of thousands are on the brink of starvation in TigrayImage: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/REUTERS

The Ethiopian government has ordered Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to cease aid operations, the two international charities said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the NRC said the group was ordered to suspend all operations, citing what the Ethiopian government termed "public advocacy." The NGO said the government also alleged they had not obtained proper paperwork for its foreign staff.

Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said their Dutch section, by far the largest and most active in Ethiopia, had been asked to halt its work for three months in the Tigray, Amhara, Gambella and Somali regions.

An MSF spokeswoman said the group was "urgently seeking clarification from the authorities.''

Even with the humanitarian cease-fire declared by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, aid workers had complained access to Tigray was poor due to insecurity and bureaucracy.

UN condemns attacks on workers, aid delays 

Ethiopian government officials have accused aid workers of bias in favor of, and even arming, the rebel forces in Tigray. Hundreds of thousands of people in the northern region are facing famine, according to the UN.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths called the allegations against aid workers "dangerous."

He addressed the media in the capital, Addis Ababa, at the end of a six-day trip to Ethiopia, his first in this role.

"Blanket accusations of humanitarian aid workers need to stop," Griffiths said.

His plane to Tigray was held up for five hours while authorities searched everyone on board, two humanitarian officials told AFP.

 Roman Kidanemariam, 35, holds her malnourished daughter in Tigray
Hundreds of thousands are imperiled by blockades and bureaucracy preventing needed aid getting through to TigrayImage: AP

Tigray in dire straits

The Ethiopian government sent troops to quash the ruling party in Tigray, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in November. Prime Minister Abiy promised a quick war to restore the central government's control after attacks on federal army camps by the TPLF.

However, in late June, rebels in support of the TPLF took the regional capital, Mekele, and the Ethiopian government largely pulled back.

At least a dozen aid workers have been killed in Tigray, including three with MSF in June which caused the acclaimed NGO to pull back from parts of the region.

Only one 50-truck convoy has been allowed into Tigray since Mekele fell. The UN estimates that at least one 100-truck convoy is needed daily to meet demand.

The UN reports fighting in Tigray has pushed 400,000 to the brink of starvation, including more than 100,000 children who are at risk of life-threatening, acute malnutrition in the next year.

ar/nm (AFP, AP)