UN suspends flight after Ethiopian government airstrike in Tigray region

A UN humanitarian flight is interrupted as conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and the TPLF in the Tigray region escalates, severely hampering humanitarian operations.

24 October 2021

Assistance to people displaced by conflict in northern Ethiopia. (AFP or licensors)

A United Nations humanitarian flight to Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, was forced to turn back on Friday after a federal government airstrike on the city. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said the UN had received no prior warning of the airstrike on Mekelle and the flight by UN Humanitarian Air Services United Nations (UNHAS) departing from Addis Ababa with 11 aid workers had been authorized by federal authorities. However, the control tower at Mekelle airport asked the flight to stop the landing. The flight has returned safely to Addis Ababa and UN agencies are reviewing the situation.

Gemma Connell, head of the regional office for southern and eastern Africa at OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also confirmed the incident.

Humanitarian sources and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), which controls the region, said a university in Mekelle was affected by the strike. Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and denied that the university was affected. Reuters reported that the TPLF controlled Tigray Television as saying that 11 civilians were injured in the airstrike on Mekelle, the fourth this week.

The Ethiopian conflict
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million have been displaced since November, when tensions between the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia’s ruling party for decades, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a non-Tigrayan who took office in 2018, erupted into conflict.

The government has stepped up airstrikes on the Mekelle River as fighting escalates in Amhara, a neighboring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and armed groups allied with Amhara are trying to reclaim.

UN concerned
Following Friday’s incident, the UN suspended all flights to Mekelle. Griffiths said the episode raises serious concerns for the safety of aid workers trying to help civilians in need. He called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, including by protecting humanitarian personnel and goods from damage.

Connell also echoed Griffiths’ concerns. “While we are still checking all the facts about this event, we are obviously concerned about what happened today and what it means for humanitarian operations in northern Ethiopia,” she said. told UN reporters. in New York, informing them via video link from the UN base in Nairobi, Kenya.

7 million desperate people in the north
She said: “Today, around 7 million people in northern Ethiopia are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” including more than 5 million in the Tigray region and 2 million in Amhara and Afar. Many displaced people have already been displaced several times before and find themselves homeless. “We have rates of acute malnutrition increasing every day, and not just among children. Almost half of pregnant and lactating women in Tigray also suffer from acute malnutrition, ”said Connell.

The challenges of delivering aid
The OCHA regional official said the delay in delivering humanitarian aid to the impoverished region is alarming, as some operations have already been canceled due to fuel shortages, exacerbating the already humanitarian situation. hard. Connell lamented the “multitude” of problems hampering the rapid delivery of aid, such as federal government approvals and lack of money to purchase supplies and provisions, problems at checkpoints along the route. road as well as community resistance in some areas.

The UN promises its continued presence
“So with the escalation of the conflict and with all the other obstacles, we face a lot of challenges on a daily basis, but we are absolutely not giving up,” said Connnel. She said 400,000 people in Tigray face “catastrophic food insecurity”, but they are not giving up. There are many aid workers, she added, who have remained on the ground, “always fully dedicated to providing the necessary assistance”. – Vatican News

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