UN says Tigray fighting hampers aid delivery despite deal

Published December 4, 2020, 6:03 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

The United Nations said Friday that fighting continued “in many parts” of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, complicating efforts to deliver humanitarian aid despite an agreement granting the UN access to territory under federal control.

Men unpack sorghum to distribute on Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict, at Um Raquba reception camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state on December 3, 2020. – More than 45,000 people have escaped from northern Ethiopia since November 4, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered military operations against leaders of Tigray’s ruling party in response to its alleged attacks on federal army camps. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

“We have reports of fighting still going on in many parts of Tigray. This is concerning and it’s a complex situation for us,” Saviano Abreu, spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, told AFP.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations in Tigray a month ago, saying they were targeting leaders of the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Thousands have died, according to the International Crisis Group, and tens of thousands of refugees have streamed across the border into Sudan.

Last week Abiy declared victory and said fighting was “completed” after federal forces entered the regional capital Mekele, but the TPLF has vowed to fight on.

The UN has been warning of a possible humanitarian catastrophe within Tigray, though a communications blackout has made it difficult to assess conditions on the ground.

On Wednesday the UN announced it had reached an agreement to administer aid in government-controlled areas of Tigray.

But as of Friday security assessments were still being conducted, and three UN officials told AFP that aid was not expected to arrive before next week.

“Basically, at the moment there is no access,” one official said, arguing that the UN and the government “should have held off” on announcing the deal until preparations were further along.

“When you go public in the fashion they did, it creates expectations for people who think, ‘Access has been given, why is help not reaching us?'” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The UN is continuing to negotiate “with all parties to the conflict” to ensure unfettered access, Abreu said. 

“We have been granted this access, this agreement with the federal government. But we also have to have the same kind of agreement with all parties to the conflict to make sure we actually have unconditional free access to Tigray,” he said. 

Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael said Thursday that fighting occurred “around Mekele”, and several diplomats also told AFP that clashes persisted in multiple locations in Tigray.