Tigray forces killed 120 civilians in village in Amhara – Ethiopia officials

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Rebellious forces from the Tigray region killed 120 civilians over two days in a village in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, local officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

The killings in a village 10 km (six miles) from the town of Dabat took place on Sept. 1 and 2, said Sewnet Wubalem, the local administrator in Dabat, and Chalachew Dagnew, spokesperson of the nearby city of Gondar.

A spokesperson for Tigrayan forces did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what is the first report of Tigrayan forces killing a large number of civilians since seizing territory in Amhara. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in the region as Tigrayan forces have advanced.

“So far we have recovered 120 bodies. They were all innocent farmers. But we think the number might be higher. There are people who are missing,” Sewnet, the local administrator, told Reuters by phone.

Chalachew, the Gondar city spokesperson, said he had visited the burial area in the village and that children, women and elderly were among the dead.

He said the killings were during the Tigrayan forces’ “short presence” in the area, and it was now under the control of the Ethiopian federal army.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the accounts.

Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces, has previously denied to Reuters that the forces have committed crimes against civilians while seizing territory in Amhara over the past month.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

War broke out 10 months ago between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region.

Since then, thousands have been killed and more than 2 million have fled their homes. Fighting spread in July from the Tigray region into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, also in the country’s north.

Amid the conflict, relations between the ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans have deteriorated sharply.

During the war, regional forces and militiamen from the Amhara region have sought to settle a decades-old land dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions.

Amhara forces have seized control of western parts of Tigray and driven tens of thousands of Tigrayans from their homes. Though the Tigrayan forces have seized back most of the Tigray region, they have not taken back the heavily militarized and contested area of western Tigray.

The U.S. government’s humanitarian agency said last week Tigrayan forces had in recent weeks looted its warehouses in parts of Amhara.

Responding on Twitter to the agency’s statement on looting, Getachew Reda, the Tigrayan forces’ spokesperson, wrote: “While we cannot vouch for every unacceptable behavior of off-grid fighters in such matters, we have evidence that such looting is mainly orchestrated by local individuals & groups.”

The U.N. has said a de facto aid blockade on the Tigray region, where some 400,000 people are already in famine conditions, has worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied allegations by the U.N. and Western governments that it is deliberately impeding the delivery of lifesaving assistance. On Sunday, a U.N. convoy of trucks bearing food and other aid was permitted to enter Tigray for the first time since Aug. 20.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Jon Boyle and Timothy Heritage)

U.S. agency says Tigrayan forces looted aid warehouses in Ethiopia’s Amhara region

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region in recent weeks looted warehouses belonging to the U.S. government’s humanitarian agency in the Amhara region, USAID’s Ethiopia director said on Tuesday.

War broke out in the mountainous region last November between Ethiopian troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region. The conflict has killed thousands and caused a humanitarian crisis.

After retaking control of most of Tigray in late June and early July, Tigrayan forces pushed into the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions, displacing several hundred thousand more people from their homes.

“We do have proof that several of our warehouses have been looted and completely emptied in the areas, particularly in Amhara, where TPLF soldiers have gone into,” the director Sean Jones told state broadcaster EBC in a televised interview.

“I do believe that the TPLF has been very opportunistic,” he added.

Representatives for the TPLF and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Up to 900,000 people in Tigray are already in famine conditions, while five million others are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, USAID estimates.

For the first time in nine months of war, aid workers will run out of food this week to deliver to millions of people who are going hungry, the head of USAID said last week, blaming the government for restricting access.

The Tigrayan forces and the federal government have repeatedly traded accusations of hampering the flow of aid.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Maggie Fick and Grant McCool)

U.S. aid chief says emergency food in Ethiopia’s Tigray to run out this week

By Maggie Fick

NAIROBI (Reuters) -For the first time in nine months of war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, aid workers will run out of food this week to deliver to millions of people who are going hungry, the head of the U.S. government’s humanitarian agency said, blaming the government for restricting access.

“USAID and its partners as well as other humanitarian organizations have depleted their stores of food items warehoused in Tigray,” Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said in a statement late on Thursday.

“People in Tigray are starving with up to 900,000 in famine conditions and more than five million in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” Power said. “This shortage is not because food is unavailable, but because the Ethiopian Government is obstructing humanitarian aid and personnel, including land convoys and air access.”

War broke out in November between Ethiopian troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region. The conflict has killed thousands and sparked a humanitarian crisis in one of the world’s poorest regions.

Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, did not respond to a request for comment. At a news conference on Friday, she did not refer to Power’s statement but dismissed allegations that the Ethiopian government is “purposely blocking humanitarian assistance”, saying the government is concerned about security.

“It is important to really address this continuing rhetoric because that is not the case,” Billene said. “Security is first and foremost a priority that cannot be compromised, it is a volatile area so in that regards there is going to be continuous checks and processes.”

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire and unrestricted aid access in Tigray. The U.N. warned last month that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could die of hunger.

Power’s statement said that 100 trucks carrying food and life-saving supplies need to be arriving each day in Tigray to meet the humanitarian needs there. As of a few days ago, only about 320 trucks had arrived, less than 7% of what is required, it said.

The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in June after Tigrayan forces re-captured the regional capital Mekelle and retook most of the region. The Tigrayan forces dismissed this as a “joke” and issued preconditions for truce talks.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie and Giulia Paravicini; Editing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)

More than 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s Tigray could die of hunger- UNICEF

By Giulia Paravicini and Stephanie Nebehay

WUKRO, Ethiopia/GENEVA (Reuters) -The United Nations children’s agency said on Friday that more than 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray could suffer life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months, a 10-fold increase to normal numbers.

UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said that one-in-two pregnant and breastfeeding women screened in Tigray were acutely malnourished.

“Our worst fears about the health and well-being of children… are being confirmed,” she told a briefing in Geneva.

Spokespeople for the prime minister and a government task force on Tigray – where fighting between rebellious regional and federal forces have continued since November – did not immediately respond to requests for comment on UNICEF’s statement.

Babies like 20-month-old Aammanuel Merhawi are suffering the most. He is a third below normal weight for his age. His feverish eyes glisten and his ribs are visible as he heaves, vomiting supplementary food fed through a nasal tube. All are signs of severe malnutrition.

“My milk dried up,” his mother, Brkti Gebrehiwot, told Reuters at Wukro General Hospital in northern Tigray on July 11.

FAMINE CONDITIONS

Aid agencies say they are about to run out of the formula used to treat 4,000 severely malnourished children every month.

At least three children have died in Wukro hospital since February, nurse Tsehaynesh Gebrehiwot said.

She provided their medical records: four-month-old Awet Gebreslassie weighed 2.6 kilogramnes (5.7 lb), a third of normal weight; one-year-old Robel Gebrezgiher weighed 2 kgs, less than a quarter of normal weight; and Kisanet Hogus, also a year old, weighed 5 kgs – just over half of normal weight.

All died within days of admission.

In Adigrat General Hospital further north, Reuters saw medical records confirming the death of three more malnourished children.

Doctors in both hospitals said they saw between four to 10 severely malnourished children monthly before the conflict erupted in November. Now numbers have more than doubled.

The U.N. says that around 400,000 people are living in famine conditions in Tigray, and more than 90% of the population needs emergency food aid.

In a statement on Thursday evening, the Ethiopian government blamed Tigray regional forces for blocking aid and said it had stockpiled reserve wheat in the region. It gave no details on the stockpile’s location or plans for distribution.

The TPLF was unavailable for comment but has previously said it welcomes aid.

The U.N. says Tigray needs 100 trucks of food daily to prevent mass starvation; only one 50-truck convoy has gotten through in the past month.

(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Wukro and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva. Editing by Katharine Houreld and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Three more regions reinforce Ethiopia army, Amhara against Tigray forces

By Dawit Endeshaw

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Three more Ethiopian regions are sending soldiers to reinforce the national army in its fight against forces from the northern region of Tigray, regional officials said, widening a conflict that has so far largely affected the north.

Officials from Oromiya, Sidama, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region said their forces had joined the army, known as the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), which withdrew from most of Tigray late in June.

A fourth region, Amhara, has already been locked in conflict with Tigray since the war erupted in November. Both Amhara and Tigray claim the fertile fields of western and southern Tigray.

In the past week, Tigrayan forces have retaken much of the south, but the west is heavily militarized.

Western Tigray has long been home to large populations of both Tigrayans and Amhara, and fresh fighting in the area could drive another wave of refugees from a conflict that has already forced 2 million from their homes.

“We have already deployed our special forces and they will join ENDF. Our people will also support with materials. It is the ENDF that is in charge where the special forces will be deployed,” said Oromiya Region spokesperson Getachew Balcha.

“If needed we will deploy more,” he told Reuters.

The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region also confirmed it sent soldiers.

“Close to 300 to 400 special forces were sent this week. I think they will be deployed on the western front,” said an official from the region’s communications office on condition of anonymity.

A Sidama official who did not want to be named also confirmed the region’s forces had gone to reinforce the national army.

Pictures posted on the state-run regional Amhara Media Corporation showed soldiers from Sidama posing with residents of the town of Debre Markos in Amhara.

END OF CEASEFIRE

This month, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told parliament Ethiopia could mobilize about 100,000 soldiers from regional special forces in less than a week.

His remarks signaled an end to the government’s unilateral ceasefire, announced as troops pulled out of Tigray’s capital Mekelle. Tigrayan leaders derided the ceasefire as a way to cover up battlefield losses and the capture of thousands of prisoners of war.

Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has said it will continue to fight until it restores Tigray’s pre-war boundaries and the government stops blockading the region. Currently most routes into Tigray are blocked and only one convoy of food aid has been allowed in.

Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees are also caught in the middle of the fighting in two camps taken over by Tigrayan forces this week. A refugee told Reuters that two men had already been killed and three refugees injured in the fighting.

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Ethiopia denies blocking aid to Tigray where WFP trucks waited days to unload

By Dawit Endeshaw

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia on Friday denied blocking humanitarian aid to its northern Tigray region where hundreds of thousands face starvation, and said it was rebuilding infrastructure amid accusations it is using hunger as a weapon.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, provincial authorities which Ethiopian forces and troops from neighboring Eritrea had driven out last year, returned to regional capital Mekelle this week to cheering crowds, in a dramatic reversal of eight months of war.

The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire which the TPLF dismissed as a joke. There are reports of continued clashes in some places as pressure builds internationally for all sides to pull back.

“The allegation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as weapon of war is beyond the pale,” Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats in Addis Ababa.

“We have been exerting every possible effort to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore electricity, telecoms, internet and banking services.”

Just before Mekelle was taken, Reuters saw a convoy of 34 trucks – each laden with 43 tons of food aid – stopped in the Tigray town of Mai Tsebri. Blue flags from the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) hung from the cabins, sodden with rain.

The trucks had waited four days at a checkpoint controlled by government-allied Amhara regional forces. Finally, they unloaded the food, without having reached the area where it was needed.

Aid has been completely blocked since the TPLF took the capital, a senior diplomat in Addis Ababa told Reuters.

In a speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Tigrayans needed to reflect on who they chose as leaders.

“If they are cheering after we left – while we were the ones who had been giving them wheat – they need a time of silence,” he said.

‘ACT OF WAR’

The United Nations said in early June at least 350,000 people in Tigray faced famine. The U.S. Agency for International Development last week estimated the number at 900,000.

The TPLF dominated the central government for decades before Abiy came to power in 2018. His government has been battling the TPLF since late last year, when it accused the TPLF of attacking military bases in Tigray. Thousands have been killed.

TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda has repeatedly told Reuters this week that the group condemns the government’s shutdown of services as a continued act of war.

He accused the military and Amhara regional forces of destroying one of three bridges across the Tekeze River on Thursday. He said that the forces also damaged the two other bridges, calling the destruction “a deliberate effort” to ensure that aid doesn’t reach the people of Tigray.

Demeke’s comments denying that the government was blocking aid “fly fully in the face of the reality on the ground”, said Getachew, alleging that the government had systematically destroyed infrastructure, including farming tools needed for the planting season.

The WFP also raised alarm at the destruction on Thursday of a bridge across the Tekeze, saying that even prior to that, the agency had food destined for people in famine conditions that was being held up.

With the bridge out, a WFP official told reporters in Geneva on Friday: “We currently have one possible road into Tigray that is much longer and will take much more time to reach hard hit areas of Tigray.”

The WFP has resumed deliveries in Tigray, but faces continuing access problems and is “way behind” in bringing supplies to people facing starvation, its emergency coordinator, Tommy Thompson, said.

Speaking by satellite phone from Mekelle, he said fighting continued in some “hot zones”, and that its 35 staff had been “trapped” during the hostilities.

“WFP suspended its operations for only about 48 hours and we began operating in the northwest fairly quickly thereafter, managing to reach probably by the end of this weekend probably about 40,000 people,” he told a Geneva briefing.

But Thompson said he was “cautiously optimistic” an air bridge could be set up in coming days to speed aid delivery.

Government official Redwan Hussein told reporters that airspace would be opened “in case U.N. airplanes need to transport aid”.

But he added that once the planes landed in Tigray: “For anything that happens on the ground, the government will not take responsibility because that chance is now closed.”

(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa, Katharine Houreld and Giulia Paravicini in Mai Tsebri, Ethiopia, Maggie Fick in Nairobi and Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Giles Elgood and Peter Graff)

WHO’s Tedros says victims of Ethiopia air strike denied access to care

GENEVA (Reuters) -WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accused authorities in Ethiopia on Friday of blocking ambulances from reaching scores of victims of an air strike this week, a rare case of speaking out in his official capacity about the conflict in his homeland.

Tedros, who is an ethnic Tigrayan and former Ethiopian Cabinet minister, referred in his opening remarks at a WHO briefing to the air strike this week which hit a crowded market in his native region. The federal government has been waging war against fighters loyal to the former regional authorities since last year.

“Ambulances were blocked for more than a day from attending the scene and evacuating the wounded for medical care,” Tedros said.

“WHO is currently providing life-saving trauma and surgical supplies to a hospital that is treating survivors who were able to reach care,” Tedros said. “Attacks on civilians anywhere are completely unacceptable and so is denying them access to immediate care, because we lose lives.”

Tedros has occasionally tweeted about the conflict in Tigray, but has rarely mentioned it while speaking publicly in his official capacity as head of the WHO.

Ethiopia’s government has accused him in the past of supporting its opponents in the Tigray conflict, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which he previously represented as Ethiopia’s health minister and foreign minister.

Ethiopia’s military has denied that any civilians were among those killed in the air strike on the town of Togoga near the regional capital Mekelle. A military spokesman said on Thursday that all those struck were combatants, wearing civilian clothes.

Residents and doctors, however, have said that women and children were among the dead and wounded. A health official working on the response to the air strike said on Friday the death toll had risen to 64 killed, with 180 other people wounded.

The incident was one of the deadliest in months in a conflict in which the government had said major fighting largely ended last year.

It happened after residents described an increase in fighting in recent days, and fell on the anniversary of a 1988 air strike by Ethiopia’s then-ruling communists that killed hundreds of civilians, an event widely commemorated in Tigray.

On Friday, Tedros also tweeted a message from medical charity Medecins sans Frontiers, which reported that three of its staff had been killed in Ethiopia.

(Reporting by Peter Graff, Michael Shields and Stephanie NebehayWriting by Peter Graff; editing by Grant McCool)

Medical official: air strike kills at least 43 in Ethiopia’s Tigray

By Katharine Houreld

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -An air strike killed at least 43 people in the town of Togoga in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters, after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of the regional capital Mekelle.

Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane did not confirm or deny the incident. He said air strikes were a common military tactic and that government forces do not target civilians.

The bomb hit a market at around 1 p.m., according to a woman who said her husband and 2-year-old daughter had been injured.

“We didn’t see the plane, but we heard it,” she told Reuters on Wednesday. “When the explosion happened, everyone ran out. After a time we came back and were trying to pick up the injured.”

The woman said the market had been full of families, and she did not see any armed forces in the area. “Many, many” people had been killed, she said.

Reuters could not independently verify her account. She and other sources asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

The medical official confirmed at least 43 fatalities, citing witnesses and first responders.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the head of a government task force on Tigray did not respond to requests for comment on the incident.

A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that he was “disturbed by reports of bombing yesterday that killed and wounded civilians in a market in Togoga, Tigray.”

“All parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

“I call on the Ethiopian authorities to carry out a prompt and effective investigation into this attack,” he added.

News of the airstrike came as Ethiopian officials counted ballots from national and regional parliamentary elections held this week in seven of the nation’s 10 regions.

No voting was held in Tigray, where the military has been battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, since November. Security concerns and problems with ballot papers also delayed voting in two other regions.

Residents reported that TPLF forces had entered several towns north of Mekelle in the past three days, withdrawing from one of them within hours.

AMBULANCES BLOCKED

The official and two other health workers helping with the response in Togoga told Reuters on Wednesday that Ethiopian soldiers were blocking the main road from Mekelle to the town and preventing ambulances from reaching the scene.

“Patients are dying right now,” said the official.

He said two ambulances had been able to reach the town via a back road late on Tuesday but did not have the necessary equipment and were not being allowed to leave.

He said the teams had counted at least 40 dead at the scene, three people had died overnight, and there were 44 critically wounded patients needing treatment.

Another medical worker said around 20 health workers in six ambulances had tried to reach the wounded on Tuesday but soldiers stopped them at a checkpoint.

“They told us we couldn’t go to Togoga. We stayed more than one hour at the checkpoint trying to negotiate. We had a letter from the health bureau – we showed them. But they said it was an order.”

Military spokesman Getnet denied that the military was blocking ambulances.

(Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie and Giulia ParaviciniEditing by Toby Chopra, Peter Graff, Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

U.N. agency says 41 million on verge of famine

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON (Reuters) – Some 41 million people worldwide are at at imminent risk of famine, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) warned on Tuesday, saying soaring prices for basic foods were compounding existing pressures on food security.

Another half a million are already experiencing famine-like conditions, said the WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley.

“We now have four countries where famine-like conditions are present. Meanwhile 41 million people are literally knocking on famine’s door,” he said.

The WFP, which is funded entirely by voluntary donations, said it needs to raise $6 billion immediately to reach those at risk, in 43 countries.

“We need funding and we need it now,” said Beasley.

After declining for several decades, world hunger has been on the rise since 2016, driven by conflict and climate change.

In 2019, 27 million people were on the brink of famine, according to the WFP, but since 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic has been added to the mix.

World food prices rose in May to their highest levels in a decade, U.N. figures show, with basics like cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar up a combined 40% versus year ago levels.

Currency depreciation in countries like Lebanon, Nigeria, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe is adding to these pressures and driving prices even higher, stoking food insecurity.

Famine-like conditions are present this year in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen, as well as in pockets of Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

But Beasley warned against “debating numbers to death” as happened in Somalia in 2011 when 130,000 people – half the eventual toll from starvation – had already died by the time famine was declared.

The WFP, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, says around 9 percent of the world’s population, equivalent to nearly 690 million people, go to bed hungry each night.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; editing by John Stonestreet)

U.S. warns of further action against Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray

By Daphne Psaledakis and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A senior U.S. State Department official warned on Thursday that Ethiopia and Eritrea should anticipate further actions from the United States if those stoking the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region fail to reverse course.

Thousands have been killed and about 2 million people forced from their homes in Tigray after conflict erupted between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian military in November. Troops from the neighboring Amhara region and the nation of Eritrea entered the war to support the government.

The State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs Robert Godec said in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the security situation in Tigray has worsened in recent weeks, adding that atrocities have been committed by all armed actors.

Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, and Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti did not respond to calls and messages requesting comment on the remarks on Thursday.

“Should those stoking the conflict fail to reverse course, Ethiopia and Eritrea should anticipate further actions. It cannot be ‘business-as-usual’ in the face of the violence and atrocities in Tigray,” Godec said.

Godec said that while the ethnic conflict in Tigray is the worst in Ethiopia, it is only one, citing attacks on ethnic Amharans, Gumuz and Oromo, as well as other violence.

“The government’s response of mass arrests, media restrictions, human rights violations, and declining political space is fueling inter-communal rivalry and imperiling the national elections now scheduled for June 21,” Godec said.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Patricia ZengerleEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)