ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia and the United Nations agreed on Wednesday to channel desperately-needed humanitarian aid to a northern region where a month of war has killed, wounded and uprooted thousands.
The pact, announced by U.N. officials, gives aid workers access to government-controlled areas of Tigray, where federal troops have been battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and captured the regional capital.
The war is believed to have killed thousands, sent 45,000 refugees into Sudan, displaced many more within Tigray and worsened suffering in a region where 600,000 people already depended on food aid even before the flare-up from Nov. 4.
As hundreds of foreign workers were forced to leave, aid agencies had appealed for urgent safe access.
Food is running out for 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray.. And medics in the local capital Mekelle were short of painkillers, gloves and body bags, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said at the weekend.
“The U.N. and the Federal Government of Ethiopia have signed an agreement to ensure that humanitarians will have unimpeded, sustained and secure access … to areas under the control of the Federal Government in the Tigray Region,” U.N. humanitarian coordination agency OCHA said in a statement to Reuters.
The government has not commented on the agreement.
TELECOMS PARTLY RESTORED
After phone and internet connections were largely shut down when the war began, telecoms in half a dozen towns in Tigray were partly restored, Ethio Telecom said on Wednesday.
The state-run company said it was using alternative power sources and repairing network damage. Reconnected towns included Dansha, Humera and Mai Kadra, all controlled by the military.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory after Mekelle’s fall over the weekend, as TPLF leaders fled for the hills.
On Wednesday, he shifted focus to next year’s parliamentary election, meeting with political parties and election officials about the mid-2021 vote, his office said.
His government postponed it this year due to COVID-19, but Tigray went ahead anyway and re-elected the TPLF, a guerrilla movement-turned-political party.
That defiance was one reason for the federal government’s military offensive against TPLF leaders, a conflict that may jeopardize political reforms since Abiy took office in 2018.
Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader at 44 who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for a pact with Eritrea, was pictured in battle fatigues meeting military officers in photos tweeted by his official photographer on Wednesday.
He took Ethiopia’s top job after nearly three decades of a TPLF-led national government, which had become increasingly repressive, jailing opponents and banning opposition parties.
Abiy removed Tigrayans from government and security posts, saying they were over-represented for an ethnic group accounting for just 6% of Ethiopia’s population. The military went in when a federal army base was ambushed in Tigray.
ADDIS ABABA BLAST
The TPLF casts their former military comrade and partner in government as bent on dominating them to increase his personal grip over the vast nation of 115 million people, which is split into 10 regions run by different ethnic groups.
Abiy, who hails from the larger Oromo and Amharic ethic groups, calls the Tigrayan leaders criminals opposing national unity and plotting attacks in Addis Ababa and elsewhere.
Federal police blamed the TPLF, without offering proof, for a small blast in the capital on Wednesday that injured an officer lightly. There was no immediate response from the TPLF.
There has been little verifiable information from Mekelle, the highland city of 500,000 people, since it fell on Saturday.
TPLF leaders say they are continuing to fight from surrounding mountainous areas.
“Wars are not like taps that you turn on and then turn off. This is going to be a very long, drawn-out process,” Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi told an online forum.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis in Nairobi, Maggie Fick in Istanbul; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Tim Cocks; Editing by Maggie Fick and Alison Williams)