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UN says more than 70 aid delivering truckers detained in northern Ethiopia

DW logo DW 2021/11/10
The UN and other groups have struggled to deliver aid to citizens caught up in fighting between Addis Ababa and the TPLF © Provided by dw.com The UN and other groups have struggled to deliver aid to citizens caught up in fighting between Addis Ababa and the TPLF

The United Nations on Wednesday announced that at least 70 truck drivers delivering aid to the northern Ethiopian Tigray region had been detained during the past week, after the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy declared a six-month nationwide state of emergency.

The UN says drivers working for it and other international aid organizations were arrested on November 3 in the northern city of Semera in Ethiopia's Afar region. Although representatives enquired as to the grounds for the detentions, they have received no answer according to the UN.

Semera is a key gateway for aid deliveries into Ethiopia's northern regions. The UN says the mass detention of aid delivery drivers amounts to a "de facto humanitarian blockade."

What is the humanitarian situation in Tigray?

The UN has struggled to deliver food and medical aid to millions of people in Tigray in recent months and especially since Ethiopia's government began conducting airstrikes in the region in mid-October. "It is estimated that 80% of essential medication is no longer available" in the region, said the UN's humanitarian aid agency last week.

The Ethiopian government claims that aid may be being diverted to Tigray fighters rather than delivered to civilians, though it has offered no evidence for this. A similar logic also prompted Addis Ababa to impose the state of emergency, which allows government forces to detain anyone it accuses of supporting the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

On Tuesday, the UN announced that 22 of its staff members had been arrested and detained in the capital for "supporting terrorists." Though six were released, 16 remain in custody. The Ethiopian government has arrested thousands of Tigrayans since the law went into effect last week.

Why are relations so bad between the UN and Ethiopia?

Relations between the Ethiopian government and the international organization have been tense since seven top UN staff members were expelled from the country in late September after pushing for an end to ethnic fighting between the central government in Addis Ababa and armed fighters linked to the TPLF. The Ethiopian government accused UN leaders of "meddling" in the country's internal affairs after it was suggested that sanctions may be needed if the warring parties could not strike a peace deal.

Fighting in the northern Tigray region broke out in November 2020, when Addis Ababa accused the TPLF of attacking government forces and then mobilized the army. The TPLF ruled Ethiopia for 27 years before current Prime minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018. Fighting in Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa, has killed thousands, sparked famine, and raised grave concern over the perpetration of war crimes.

Fighting in the country of 115 million has now spread beyond Tigray, with ethnic groups opposed to the central government banding together to embark on a march toward the capital. International observers have warned of probable war crimes committed on all sides. On Wednesday, the NGO Amnesty International (AI) released a report documenting TPLF atrocities including gang rapes in Amhara, which borders Tigray.

Germany joins US and UK advising nationals to leave Ethiopia

Germany's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday issued travel warnings for Ethiopia, urging all citizens to leave the country in response to the "worsening conflict and its potential spread to other regions and even the capital, Addis Ababa."

The move follows a November 5 announcement by the US State Department ordering "the departure of non-emergency US government employees and their family members from Ethiopia due to armed conflict, civil unrest and possible supply shortages."

The UK on Tuesday also advised nationals to leave Ethiopia, saying: "The conflict has potential to escalate and spread quickly and with little warning."

js/msh (AP, dpa)

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