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UN Calls For Ceasefire To Stop ‘Humanitarian Catastrophe’ In Tigray

August 27, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
United Nations. (Photo by Dan McCue)

This week the head of the United Nations warned that the violence in Tigray, located in northern Ethiopia, is imperiling the whole region, and he called for an immediate ceasefire.

Brutal clashes in Tigray over the last nine months have led to mass displacement and blockades of humanitarian assistance. 

At the end of June, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed proclaimed a ceasefire and ordered a withdrawal of National Defence Forces from Tigray.

However, the UN says that a comprehensive ceasefire hasn’t materialized. Instead, the fighting has spilled over into nearby Amhara and Afar. 

There are reports of hospital lootings, sex and gender-focused brutality, and the wrecking of refugee camps, the UN said.

“A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a comment, adding that the “unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region” are on the line.

The secretary-general called for an immediate ceasefire and a national dialogue “without preconditions,” which he hopes will deescalate the situation.

Guterres indicated he has contacted Ahmed and received a letter from Debretsion Gebremichael, president of the Tigray region. According to Guterres, the UN is ready to work with the African Union to jumpstart the national dialogue.

The history of the conflict is long and complicated, but confrontation has been ratcheting up for some time.

Last November, Ahmed began a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front after claiming they had attacked a government-controlled military base.

The Tigray region, in particular, has become enveloped in violence as the Tigray Defense Force has grabbed portions of Afar and Amhara, and leaders of the Ethiopian government have incited ethnic militias to attack them.

Senior Fellow for Brookings Institution Vanda Felbab-Brown has warned that the Ethiopian government cannot control these paramilitary groups, which pose an even greater threat to the country than the current situation in Tigray.

For the region, the clashes have been utterly destructive already.

More than two million people have fled to sheltering places in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar, according to information from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 

International observers have expressed distress over the horrific treatment of those who have been displaced. In April, for instance, the G7 issued a statement lambasting the murder and displacement of Tigray and Eritrean refugees.

Food insecurity has also made the toll of the fighting worse, and it is a particular concern for the international community.

Flooding and locust infestations have amplified the destructiveness of the violence and the danger of mass starvation and malnutrition. Guterres has said that Tigray is under a “de facto humanitarian blockade and [is] cut off from electricity and communications” by the Ethiopian government. 

Attempts to get food into the affected areas have been slow, hampered by restrictions on humanitarian work, and have relied on a single route through Afar, an explanatory article from the UN said.

Nearly 100 trucks should arrive every day, but none have arrived in more than a week, the UN reported on Thursday.

Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, visited the region earlier this month and relayed that the humanitarian assistance was “woefully insufficient.”

Power warned that “hundreds of thousands are facing famine, food warehouses are virtually empty,” and she revealed that aid workers had run out of food to distribute as the Ethiopian government continued to obstruct aid.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, which provides assistance and relief to children, has warned that more than 100,000 children are in imminent danger of life-threatening malnutrition in the next year because of the crisis.

“Inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country,” Guterres said, later adding that, “In every sense, the future of Ethiopia is at stake.”

“I condemn these atrocious acts in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “There must be accountability.”

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