A United Nations humanitarian flight to the Ethiopian Tigray region, the epicenter of a decades-long war that threatens to exacerbate hunger, was ordered to abort its landing on Friday as government airstrikes hit the area for its fourth day.
A UN Humanitarian Air Service flight bound for the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, returned to the capital, Addis Ababa, and all such flights have been suspended, said Steve Taravella, a spokesman for the World Food Program, the United Nations Anti Hunger. air travel agency.
This was the first time a UN humanitarian flight had been forced to leave a mission in the Tigrayan area by an airstrike, according to Gemma Connell, senior UN relief official for South and East Africa.
“We are clearly concerned about what happened today,” Connell said during a conference call with reporters. She said there were 11 humanitarian workers on board, but did not talk about her work or the cargo they were carrying.
Hours later, Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, issued an outrageous statement claiming that the organization had not been warned in advance of the Mekelle airstrikes and received the necessary flight permits.
“The UN and non-governmental organizations are working hard to continue to provide assistance to the millions of people who desperately need it,” he said. “Because of the dynamics of the conflict, it’s getting harder.”
The plane’s landing was interrupted when Ethiopian forces struck what the government described as an insurgent military training center on the fourth day of air attacks that appeared to be part of a serious escalation in the conflict. Some non-governmental news reported that the attack hit the Mekelle campus. There was no independent confirmation of the target or the size of the casualties or injuries.
The interrupted flight underlines the difficulties the UN is facing as it tries to provide food and other assistance to victims of a polarized conflict that is escalating in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and fraught with the worst hunger in a decade.
UN officials have complained for months about their inability to send convoys of food and fuel to the conflict zone due to Ethiopian government security checkpoints and bureaucratic obstacles. Connell said that since July, only 15% of the needed assistance has reached its destination.
Fighting has intensified in the past two weeks since the Ethiopian government launched a major offensive aimed at breaking the deadlock of the war. Ethiopian military and local forces attacked the Tigray rebels in the Amhara region, south of Tigray.
Officials on both sides said the Tigerians launched a counteroffensive and the fighting spread to the neighboring Afar region. The Tigrayans claim they killed 34,000 government troops and captured 1,400 more, but access to these areas was limited, making it difficult for outside media to find out what was going on.
The United Nations says the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has risen to 7 million, including 5 million in Tigray, and that 400,000 are suffering from hunger.
The conflict has undermined the international reputation of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending a protracted conflict with neighboring Eritrea.
The Tigray conflict, which Abiy confidently proclaimed, will be over within weeks when it began last November, now risks spilling out of his reach as fighting spreads everywhere, threatening to unravel the complex ethnic mosaic that holds Ethiopia together.
Tensions have escalated between Abiy and the United States. Washington was the main source of aid and friendship for Ethiopia, but since then it has urged Abiy to find a way to resolve the conflict and allow foreign aid to reach the victims.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed a decree threatening new massive sanctions aimed at ending the war. Outraged, Abiy issued a lengthy statement in which he accused Western countries of bias, called criticism against him a neo-colonialist, and showed no sign that he could give in to US demands.
Relations between the Abiya government and the United Nations also deteriorated after September 30, when the Ethiopian authorities said seven UN humanitarian workers did not welcome their arrival in the country, accusing them of interfering and sympathizing with the rebels.
UN Secretary General António Guterres called the expulsions unacceptable and demanded proof from the Ethiopian government that they were acquitted. Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Guterres, said Friday that he has yet to receive any such evidence.