NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian aid groups working in its war-hit Tigray region of “arming” Tigray fighters and threatened to halt some groups’ operations there.
The accusations reflect the latest frictions between Ethiopia’s government and aid groups that for months have sought unrestricted access to the largely cut-off Tigray region where hundreds of thousands of people face famine conditions and scores have starved to death.
The spokesman for the Tigray emergency task force, Redwan Hussein, alleged Wednesday that aid groups are “playing a destructive role” in the eight-month conflict. “Instead of coordinating aid, (they) are widely engaged in coordinating, from a distance, campaigns of propaganda to harass and defame the Ethiopian government,” he said.
Redwan also said Ethiopia’s government may “reconsider its agreement to work with some of them” if humanitarian workers do not “confine their activities to aid and humanitarian issues.”
He didn’t name names. But the World Food Program on Thursday responded to a broadcast by the pro-government ESAT news station that alleged the United Nations agency was supportive of the Tigray fighters that have been battling forces from Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea.
“WFP in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the world strictly adheres to the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and operational independence,” the agency said, adding that “WFP’s number one priority is to deliver emergency food assistance to vulnerable and hungry communities.”
The Tigray forces regained control of much of the region last month including the regional capital, Mekele, while Ethiopian forces retreated and the government declared a unilateral cease-fire.
Though Ethiopia’s government has said the cease-fire is on humanitarian grounds, aid groups have said access remains severely restricted and both the United States and European Union have compared the situation to a “siege.” Phone links, internet and electricity have been cut off across most of the region.
Convoys of aid trucks were unable to enter the region for 10 days. WFP said 50 trucks carrying 900 metric of food and other aid reached the Tigray capital on Monday but warned that “we need 100 trucks to be moving on any given day for half the time if we are to reverse the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the region.”
Ethiopia’s government has denied allegations it is blocking aid to Tigray and says humanitarian flights have been granted permission to fly to Mekele and the town of Shire, subject to cargo checks. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has claimed there is “no hunger” in Tigray.
Abiy on Wednesday appeared to indicate an end to the cease-fire on Wednesday when he urged Ethiopians to “repel” attacks against “internal and external enemies.” His spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, did not comment.
This week saw renewed fighting in the south and west of Tigray between the Tigray fighters and forces from the neighboring Amhara region who claim those lands are rightfully theirs. Amhara politicians have called on young people to join the fight.
The Tigray fighters have dismissed the cease-fire as a “joke” and released their own demands for a pause in the fighting, including the resumption of basic services to the region.