The Ethiopian government admitted that its troops fired and detained United Nations workers in the conflict-hit Tigray region, blaming the team for trying to reach areas where “they were not supposed to go.”
Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s task force for Tigray told reporters that the UN staffers “broke” two checkpoints and were trying to go through a third when they were fired upon. He said the staffers have since been released.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “They were trying to kind of do an assessment of of roads before, obviously, and this needs to be done before a larger UN aid convoys go in.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on November 4 ordered a ground and air offensive into Tigray in response to alleged attacks by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces on federal military camps there.
Since then, aid-laden lorries have waited at the borders of Tigray, a region of six million people, even as warnings have become increasingly dire about the lack of food, fuel, clean water, cash and other necessities.
Abiy declared victory in Tigray on November 28 after the army seized the regional capital, Mekelle. On Monday, however, he said efforts were continuing to restore order, amid continued fighting and lawlessness that is hampering relief efforts.
“Regaining access to refugees and others in need is urgent and critical,” the head of the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, tweeted on Tuesday.
Thousands are feared dead and the U.N. estimates that more than 950,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, around 50,000 of them into neighbouring Sudan.
The government has said it was delivering aid in areas that it controlled, but relief agencies are increasingly frustrated at the difficult access to Tigray.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said it had waited weeks for clearance to deliver food, shelters and other essentials.
“Children, women and men in Tigray have now borne the brunt of this conflict for more than a month without any emergency assistance from outside the region,” it said.
“These people can no longer be made to wait. Aid must not be left at a standstill.”