Ethiopian airstrikes in Tigray force UN flight to turn back

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By CARA ANNA

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopian military airstrikes on Friday forced a United Nations humanitarian flight to abandon its landing in the capital of the country’s Tigray region, and a government spokesman said authorities were aware of the inbound flight. It appeared to be a sharp escalation in intimidation tactics authorities have used against aid workers amid the intensifying, year-long Tigray war.

Further U.N. flights have been suspended to Mekele, the base of humanitarian operations in Tigray, the World Food Program told The Associated Press. It said the flight with 11 passengers had been cleared by federal authorities but “received instructions to abort landing by the Mekele airport control tower.” It safely returned to Addis Ababa.

The friction between the government and humanitarian groups is occurring amid the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, with close to a half-million people in Tigray said to be facing famine-like conditions. The government since June has imposed what the U.N. calls a “de facto humanitarian blockade” on the region of some 6 million people, and the AP has reported that people have begun to starve to death.

Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu told the AP authorities were aware the U.N. flight was in the area but said the U.N. and military flights had a “different time and direction.” It wasn’t immediately clear how close the planes came to each other.

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Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda in a tweet said “our air defense units knew the U.N. plane was scheduled to land and it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire.” He suggested that Ethiopian authorities were “setting up the U.N. plane to be hit by our guns.”

A military spokesman didn’t respond to questions.

Legesse said Friday’s airstrikes in Mekele targeted a former military training center being used as a “battle network hub” by rival Tigray forces. Residents said they hit a field near Mekele University. Tigray spokesman Kindeya Gebrehiwot told the AP about a dozen people were wounded.

Ethiopia’s government in recent months has accused some humanitarian groups of supporting the Tigray forces, and last month it took the extraordinary step of expelling seven U.N. officials while accusing them without evidence of falsely inflating the scale of the Tigray crisis. Authorities have subjected aid workers on U.N. flights to intrusive searches and removed medical cargo.

Meanwhile, the U.N. says just 1% of the targeted 5.2 million people in urgent need received food aid between Oct. 7 and 13. Now the airstrikes that began this week in Mekele have halted aid deliveries, humanitarian spokeswoman Gemma Connell told reporters, saying “not a single truck” has entered Tigray since Monday.

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Thousands of people have been killed since November, when a political falling-out between the Tigray forces who long dominated the national government and the current administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed erupted in fighting.

Tigray forces in recent months have retaken the Tigray region and brought the fighting into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. The U.N. says more than 2 million people are now displaced overall.

And yet “our operations will come to a grinding halt in the not so distant future” in Tigray if current conditions continue, Connell said.

The airstrikes in Mekele were the first in several months, killing three children and injuring more than a dozen people, despite repeated international calls for a cease-fire and the threat of further sanctions.

On Thursday, the government claimed a successful strike against another military base used by the Tigray forces near Mekele, but the Tigray forces spokesman asserted that air defenses prevented the plane from hitting targets.

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An airstrike on Wednesday hit an industrial compound the government said was used by the Tigray forces to repair weapons. A Tigray spokesman denied that and said it was used to produce cars and tractors. Two other airstrikes hit the city on Monday.

Tigray remains under a communications blackout, making it difficult to verify claims, while areas of fighting in Amhara are largely unreachable as well.

The airstrikes come amid reports of renewed heavy fighting in Amhara. On Wednesday, the Tigray forces spokesman claimed advances had put the government-held towns of Dessie and Kombolcha “within artillery range,” prompting alarm.

Dessie hosts a large number of displaced people who have fled fighting further north. One resident told the AP he has seen many cars leaving the town with mattresses, cooking equipment and other household items strapped to their roofs in the last few days, but many displaced people are stuck because they can’t afford to leave.

He also reported plenty of vehicles carrying troops north to the front and the constant sound of shelling. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

 

4 Comments

  1. We can say and write whatever we want about the suffering of the people in that region from lack/scarcity of food, famine was Sebhat and the gangs bread and butter in the 1980’s and Debre and his cabals will never let that go away before they get what they want(They only know what they want). All the able bodied citizens of Tigray have two choices only in front of them. One of them is stay at home and die a slow and agonizing death from hunger. The 2nd and only choice left for them is join Debre’s fighting force and die trying. I submit to you they will have soldiers that will fight like savage badgers that defy military norms. Put yourself in their place. Will you choose to die at home the most agonizing death imaginable or will you throw yourself in a raging fire to end your excruciating misery with a faint hope there could be a Shangri-la awaiting you behind the inferno? Just think about that. You have heard Getachew talking about during his interviews and press releases that there will be no stopping me now until food is available(he puts that as ‘as long as there is a blockade). No matter how you cut it or dice it, famine is still bread and butter for Debre and his goons.

  2. Dear Zehabesha,
    You seem to not be clear as to where you stand in your politics. “Fairness” does not mean you should grant voice to propaganda. CARRA ANNA has been working for Tplf (and you could trace back her reporting if need be). So has Zecharias Zelalem, Lucy Kassa, etc. There is a difference between outright propaganda and differing perspectives on issues.

  3. Now it is time for Debre and his machine to sell sacks of grain filled with half sand and half millet back to the UN. Why not? People are starving and their lives must be saved by ‘all means’ necessary!!! Their predecessors had done that in the 1980’s and I did not make this story up. It was told by someone who used to be one of their own. Meanwhile let’s have those innocent citizens in our thoughts and prayers. Thousands of them are bound to die because some demons among them had triggered this senseless conflict with equally stubborn individuals in Addis/Finfine. It leaves me heart-broken with my blood boiling in anger. This should not have happened in 2021.

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