Ethiopia rejects claims of striving to ‘choke’ Tigray
Ethiopia’s government on Friday rejects allegations it’s attempting to “choke the Tigray people” by denying them desperately needed food and other assistance, even as transport and communications connections remained cut to the area that confronts the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade.
Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen talked to reporters a day after a bridge that’s essential for accessing most of the area of 6 million people was demolished and the United Nations suggested that special troops from the adjacent Amhara region were to blame. Amhara authorities have seized western Tigray and pushed away hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tigrayans.
“The implication that we are attempting to suffocate the Tigrayan people by refusing humanitarian access and using starvation as a weapon of war is beyond the pale. There is simply no need for us to do so. These are our people,” Demeke remarked.
Ethiopia’s authorities accused Tigray troops for the bridge’s destruction. But an aid worker who went to the scene claimed local people recounted to him how they witnessed Amhara special forces putting items on on the bridge and driving away after the explosion. “They still looked in disbelief at what had happened,” Roger Sandberg, vice president of field operations for Medical Teams International, told The Associated Press.
Sandberg claimed local people also informed him that there was no alternative route to cross, while Tigray troops communicated to him they wouldn’t block NGO access to the region.
The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to address Tigray on Friday, France’s U.N. ambassador – the council’s current president – announced Thursday.
In a surprising reversal earlier this week, Ethiopia announced a unilateral cease-fire on humanitarian grounds while withdrawing from Tigray troops. But the administration faces increasing international criticism as it continues to shut off the area from the rest of the world. Aid workers warn gasoline and other supplies are running short.
In a startlingly candid statement, the World Food Program stated on Friday that a second major bridge going into Tigray was demolished on Thursday, while no WFP aircraft carrying in U.N. or other relief personnel had been permitted by Ethiopia since June 22.
Even before the bridges were damaged, at least 3,800 metric tonnes of food had been prevented from reaching areas of western Tigray, WFP emergency coordinator Tommy Thompson told reporters in Geneva. He warned “more people would die” if access doesn’t materialise, but added that an air bridge could be put up in the coming days.
The U.N. agency said trucks are loaded and ready to replace its nearly exhausting food supplies within Tigray where 5.2 million people need emergency food assistance. “We’ll be out of food in the northwest by this weekend,” Thompson added.
Up to 900,000 people in Tigray are experiencing famine conditions, the United States has warned. A fresh U.N. humanitarian report released late Thursday stated “the outage of power, telephone, and internet across Tigray area would further aggravate the already grave humanitarian situation.”
Ethiopia’s foreign minister said the government has a plan for talks to settle the Tigray issue that’s expected to involve “rank-and-file members of the (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) who show a willingness to adopt a peaceful route.” But Tigray troops, recently classified by Ethiopia as a terrorist organization, currently control much of the area and have demanded that Ethiopia restore basic services before any negotiations.
“A cease-fire doesn’t mean cutting an area off electricity or damaging vital infrastructure,” European Union foreign policy director Josep Borrell tweeted on Friday. “A genuine cease-fire means doing all possible so that assistance reaches the millions of children, women, and men who desperately need it.”
The security situation in Tigray was quiet following the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and those of neighboring Eritrea, who has been accused by witnesses of some of the greatest crimes in the conflict. Officials in Eritrea, an adversary of Tigray leaders after a 1998-2000 conflict along their border, have not replied to calls for comment.
Amhara officials have cautioned Tigray troops against attempting to recapture the region’s western regions. But the Tigray military spokesperson told the AP this week they will “liberate” the area from “enemies,” and hundreds of fighters were spotted moving west.
Ethiopia’s administration has stated the cease-fire would continue just until the critical agricultural season in Tigray is finished, meaning September. But WFP claimed farmers had already missed the prime planting month of June due to seed and fertilizer shortages.