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. 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)

Tigray forces seize regional capital, say Ethiopian-led troops are on the run

By Giulia Paravicini and Maggie Fick

GONDAR, Ethiopia (Reuters) -Tigrayan forces said they had Ethiopian government troops on the run around the regional capital Mekelle on Tuesday after taking full control of the city in a sharp reversal of eight months of conflict.

People in Mekelle, where communications were cut on Monday, said the incoming Tigrayan fighters were greeted with cheers. There were similar scenes on video footage from the northern town of Shire, where residents said government-allied Eritrean forces had pulled out and Tigrayan forces had entered.

“We are 100% in control of Mekelle,” Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters on Tuesday.

There had been some fighting on the outskirts of the city, but that was now finished, he said, adding that he could not confirm the report from Shire.

“Our forces are still in hot pursuit to south, east, to continue until every square inch of territory is cleared from the enemy.”

The government was reestablishing itself in Mekelle, he said and people could walk about again in the streets. Reuters was unable to verify his comments because phone links to Mekelle and the rest of Tigray were down.

The fighting in Ethiopia’s northern region has killed thousands of people, displaced two million and brought hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine.

UNILATERAL CEASEFIRE?

Ethiopia’s government declared a unilateral ceasefire on Monday and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he hoped a political solution is possible. Diplomats said the U.N. Security Council would discuss Tigray this week.

It was not clear if other parties to the conflict would accept the ceasefire. The Ethiopian military spokesman, Eritrean information minister and Amhara regional spokesperson all said they were unable to comment. Getachew said the ceasefire was a “joke” and hundreds had been killed on Tuesday in fighting near the border with Afar region. Reuters was unable to confirm the fighting independently.

Over the next few days, TPLF forces will go after troops allied to the government from the neighboring Amhara region – in the south and west – and from the neighboring nation of Eritrea in the north and northwest of Tigray, Getachew said, adding they would cross borders in pursuit if necessary.

On Monday evening, when phone links to Mekelle were still open, residents said soldiers had disappeared from the streets and TPLF forces had entered the city. Residents greeted them with flags and songs, witnesses said.

Getachew urged the international community to force the government to allow food and aid into the region, accusing Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of blocking it.

A spokeswoman for Abiy and the head of a government taskforce on Tigray did not return messages seeking comment The government has previously denied blocking food aid and said it provides the majority of food. The U.N. has previously said the government and its allies blocked food from TPLF-controlled areas.

On Tuesday, residents said Eritrean forces could no longer be seen in Shire, a large town at the junction of several main roads.

“There’s not a single Eritrean in town,” one resident of Shire told Reuters. He sent a short video of residents crowded onto vehicles, beeping wildly and waving a large gold and red Tigray flag.

Another resident in Shire told Reuters “overnight there was a massive movement of Eritrean troops from Axum, Shire to Sheraro direction.” Sheraro is close to the Eritrean border.

FAMINE AND RIGHTS ABUSES

Ethiopia is awaiting results of national and regional parliamentary elections held on June 21. Voting was only held in three of the nation’s ten regions due to insecurity and logistical problems.

No voting was held in Tigray where the TPLF, an ethnically based political party that dominated Ethiopia’s national politics for nearly three decades, has been battling the central government since early November. It made major territorial gains in the past week.

The fighting has been punctuated by reports of brutal gang-rapes and mass killings of civilians. At least 12 aid workers have been killed.

At least 350,000 people are facing famine and 5 million others need immediate food aid, the United Nations has said – the worst global food crisis in a decade.

Last week, an Ethiopian military airstrike on a crowded market killed at least 64 people and wounded 180 other people. Doctors said women and children were among the dead and wounded and that Ethiopian troops prevented ambulances from reaching the scene for more than a day. The military said all the victims were combatants.

(Maggie Fick was reporting from Nairobi; additional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa; writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Catherine Evans and Philippa Fletcher)

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)

About 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray in famine – U.N. analysis

By Giulia Paravicini and Michelle Nichols

ADDIS ABABA/NEW YORK (Reuters) -More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray are suffering famine conditions with millions more at risk, according to an analysis by United Nations agencies and aid groups that blamed conflict for the worst catastrophic food crisis in a decade.

“There is famine now in Tigray,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said on Thursday after the release of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, which the IPC noted has not been endorsed by the Ethiopian government.

“The number of people in famine conditions … is higher than anywhere in the world, at any moment since a quarter million Somalis lost their lives in 2011,” Lowcock said.

Most of the 5.5 million people in Tigray need food aid. Fighting broke out in the region in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Troops from neighboring Eritrea also entered the conflict to support the Ethiopian government.

The violence has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million from their homes in the mountainous region.

The most extreme warning by the IPC – a scale used by U.N. agencies, regional bodies and aid groups to determine food insecurity – is phase 5, which starts with a catastrophe warning and rises to a declaration of famine in a region.

The IPC said more than 350,000 people in Tigray are in phase 5 catastrophe. This means households are experiencing famine conditions, but less than 20% of the population is affected and deaths and malnutrition have not reached famine thresholds.

“This severe crisis results from the cascading effects of conflict, including population displacements, movement restrictions, limited humanitarian access, loss of harvest and livelihood assets, and dysfunctional or non-existent markets,” the IPC analysis found.

For famine to be declared at least 20% of the population must be suffering extreme food shortages, with one in three children acutely malnourished and two people out of every 10,000 dying daily from starvation or from malnutrition and disease.

‘NIGHTMARE’

Famine has been declared twice in the past decade: in Somalia in 2011 and in parts of South Sudan in 2017.

“If the conflict further escalates or, for any other reason, humanitarian assistance is hampered, most areas of Tigray will be at risk of famine,” according to the IPC, which added that even if aid deliveries are stepped up, the situation is expected to worsen through September.

The Ethiopian government disputed the IPC analysis, saying food shortages are not severe and aid is being delivered.

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told a news conference on Thursday that the government was providing food aid and help to farmers in Tigray.

“They (diplomats) are comparing it with the 1984, 1985 famine in Ethiopia,” he said. “That is not going to happen.”

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said a humanitarian nightmare was unfolding.

“This is not the kind of disaster that can be reversed,” she told a U.S. and European Union event on Tigray on Thursday. Referring to a previous famine in Ethiopia that killed more than 1 million people, she said: “We cannot make the same mistake twice. We cannot let Ethiopia starve. We have to act now.”

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said that to stop hunger from killing millions of people in Tigray there needed to be a ceasefire, unimpeded aid access and more money to expand aid operations.

According to notes of a meeting of U.N. agencies on Monday, seen by Reuters, the IPC analysis could be worse as “they did not include those in Amhara-controlled areas” in western Tigray.

Mitiku Kassa, head of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission, said on Wednesday: “We don’t have any food shortage.”

(Additional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mary Milliken, Peter Cooney, Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis)

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)

U.S. looks into reports of atrocities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is looking into reports of human rights abuses and atrocities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.

Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing that the United States is “gravely concerned” about accounts last week by CNN and the BBC of a massacre in the region by Ethiopian forces.

“We are, of course, looking into these reports. We have taken close note of them and we’ll continue to pay close attention,” Price said.

“We strongly condemn the killings, the forced removals, the sexual assaults, the other human rights abuses that multiple organizations have reported,” Price added, declining to say who the United States believed was responsible.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry has said a joint investigation with external experts into alleged human rights violations would start soon.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is struggling to control several flashpoints where ethnic rivalries over land, power and resources have ignited ahead of national elections scheduled for June.

Price also welcomed an Ethiopian foreign ministry pledge that Eritrean troops would withdraw from Tigray, calling such a withdrawal an important step forward in de-escalation in the region.

Eritrea and Ethiopia denied the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray for months, despite dozens of eyewitness accounts. G7 countries including the United States called on Friday for a swift, unconditional and verifiable withdrawal of the Eritrean soldiers, followed by a political process acceptable to all Ethiopians.

“The immediate and complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray will be an important step forward in de-escalating the conflict and restoring peace and regional stability,” Price told reporters.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chris Reese and Will Dunham)