The Ethiopian Red Cross said Wednesday that 80 percent of the country’s conflict-hit Tigray region was cut off from humanitarian assistance and warned tens of thousands could starve to death.
The grim assessment underscores fears of a humanitarian catastrophe three months after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace laureate, announced military operations aimed at toppling the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
“Eighty percent of the Tigray is unreachable at this particular time,” the president of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, Abera Tola, told a press conference.
Some starvation deaths have already been reported and the figures could climb fast, he said.
“The number today could be one, two or three, but you know after a month it means thousands. After two months it will be tens of thousands,” he said.
Abiy has said the military campaign in Tigray responded to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps.
In late November he declared victory after federal forces entered the Tigrayan capital Mekele.
But humanitarian workers and diplomats say continued insecurity has hampered the aid response.
Abera said Wednesday that aid access remained largely restricted to main roads north and south of Mekele, excluding most rural areas.
Displaced civilians who have managed to reach camps in Tigrayan towns are “emaciated”, he said.
“You see their skin is really on their bones. You don’t see any food in their body,” he said.
“Sometimes it is also really difficult to help them without some kind of high nutritional value foods.”
The Ethiopian Red Cross now estimates that around 3.8 million of Tigray’s roughly six million people need humanitarian assistance, up from an earlier estimate of 2.4 million, Abera said.
The government has said it is working with the UN and international organisations to grant greater aid access as the security situation allows.
– ‘Extremely dire’ –
The head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said at the weekend he had reached a deal with Ethiopian authorities to expand access for aid workers and “scale up” operations in Tigray.
The country’s peace minister, Muferihat Kamil, said in a separate statement the government was “moving with urgency to approve requests for international staff movements into and within Tigray.”
The UN on Monday received approvals for 25 international staff to be deployed to Tigray, but this is just “a first step,” Saviano Abreu, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian coordination office, told AFP Wednesday.
“The situation on the ground is extremely dire and needs have outpaced our capacity to respond. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the approval for another 49 NGO and UN staff that are in Addis ready to deploy to Tigray,” Abreu said.
A deal signed last year by the UN and the government restricted UN access to areas under government control, a provision the remains in effect.
It is unclear exactly how much of Tigray’s territory is controlled by federal forces, but UN officials estimate it is between 60 and 80 percent.
The European Union announced in December it was postponing nearly 90 million euros ($109 million) in budget support payments to Ethiopia, partly over humanitarian access restrictions.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” about statements out of Brussels about the situation in Tigray.
“As has been stated time and again in many of the Government’s communications and briefings given to the international community, access to many of the humanitarian actors has been given to many of the places in Tigray under a government-led process,” the statement said.
Ten rebels killed in offensive in east DR Congo — Army
The Congolese army forces on Sunday killed 10 rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the troubled east of the country, a spokesman said.
The offensive kicked off last Thursday in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, with army and police officers assigned to replace civilian authorities under a 30-day “state of siege”.
In a clash in Halungupa, in the Rwenzori area, “our troops got the better of the ADF enemy. We in fact saw 10 dead bodies of ADF elements,” Antony Mualushayi, an army spokesman in the North Kivu city of Beni, told AFP.
The death toll is provisional, he added.
“We are determined to finish with the ADF once and for all,” he said. “This siege should give the people of the Beni region the chance to live in a place where peace rules.”
A spokesman for a monitor called the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) said however that it had counted “only five bodies so far.”
Meanwhile, a delegation of Ugandan officers arrived in Beni on Sunday, according to an AFP reporter, while the army and government authorities declined to comment on the visit.
The ADF, a group of Ugandan Islamist fighters, has been based in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 1995.
Branded a “terrorist” organization affiliated with the Islamic State group by the United States, the ADF has been accused of murdering more than 1,000 civilians since November 2019 in Beni alone.
It is by far the most dangerous of scores of armed groups that operate in the east of DR Congo.
Mineral-rich North and South-Kivu which lie along the DRC’s eastern borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, descended into violence during the country’s two wars between 1996 and 2003, and have never regained stability.
Ituri, further to the north, has also been rocked by violence since late 2017 after 15 years of relative calm.
Under the DRC’s constitution, the president can declare a state of either siege or emergency “if severe circumstances immediately threaten the independence or integrity of the national territory, or if they interrupt the regular functioning of institutions”.
South Sudan president dissolves parliament in line with peace deal
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, a long-awaited step to pave the way for the appointment of lawmakers from formerly warring parties in the country.
The move was in line with a peace deal signed to end a civil war that began in 2013.
The president dissolved parliament on Saturday and the new body will be formed in “a matter of time, not too long”, his spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Reuters.
According to the deal that ended the civil war, parliament must be expanded from 400 members to 550 and must include members from all parties to the peace accord.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war. Violence erupted in late 2013 after Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, sacked vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.
The two men have signed many deals to end a war estimated to have killed more than 400,000 people. They repeatedly pushed back deadlines to form a government of national unity, but in 2020 finally did so.
Despite the peace deal, violence is still raging in parts of the country, according to United Nations reports.
Chad rebels ‘fleeing’, says defence minister
Rebels who launched an offensive in northern Chad, sparking clashes that claimed the life of veteran president Idriss Deby Itno, are in flight, the country’s new defence minister said on Thursday.
“The security forces are thoroughly sweeping the operational area. Most of the prisoners are in the hands of the gendarmerie (police) and are being well-treated. The enemy is fleeing,” Defence Minister Brahim Daoud Yaya told a news conference.
“We are never going to dialogue with terrorists.”
He was speaking after the first meeting of a transitional government appointed by a 14-member military junta, the Transitional Military Council (TMC), that took office after Deby’s death on April 19.
Opposition supporters, meanwhile, called for fresh anti-junta protests on Saturday.
Demonstrations on April 29 that were violently repressed by the authorities claimed six lives, according to the authorities, and nine according to a local grass-roots organisation, while more than 600 people were arrested.
The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a large armed group with a rear base in Libya, mounted an offensive on April 11 as the country was to hold presidential elections.
Deby, a former general who had been in power for 30 years, led the fighting against the insurgents.
According to the authorities, he died from combat injuries in the Kanem desert region, about 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of the capital N’Djamena, close to the border with Niger.
“Libya is the terrorists’ stronghold,” the minister said.
He added, however: “I cannot accuse Libya of supporting the terrorists, as there is no state in Libya.”
Deby’s death occurred on the same day that he was declared victor in the presidential results and that the army claimed to have killed 300 FACT rebels, according to official announcements.
Another 246 rebels have been captured and handed over to the judicial authorities, according to the authorities.
Fighting has been continuing in the area of Nokou, in the administrative region of North Kanem.
Last week, a Chadian military helicopter crashed there after what the army said was a breakdown, while FACT said it had downed the aircraft.
A junta took power immediately after Deby’s shock death, headed by his 37-year-old son Mahamat, a four-star general, and parliament was suspended.
The military rulers have vowed to hold “free and democratic” elections following an 18-month transition period.
On Sunday, the junta unveiled a 40-member transitional government, the key posts of which have gone to members of the former president’s MPS party.
According to a report on Thursday’s first ministerial meeting, a copy of which was seen by AFP, Deby “instructed the government to urgently strengthen communal living, which has been seriously tested, to consolidate peace, ensure security and guarantee security.”
He also called for the holding of an “inclusive national dialogue.”
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