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Ethiopia forces detain UN team in Tigray

by AAP Dec 9th 2020 ยท 1 min read
Ethiopia forces detain UN team in Tigray

A United Nations team visiting refugees in Ethiopia's war-hit Tigray region failed to stop at two checkpoints when it was fired upon at the weekend, the government says, proclaiming it does not need a "babysitter".

The UN security team was seeking access to the Shimelba camp for Eritrean refugees when they were fired at on Sunday. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said four people were in the UN team assessing roads in the area for aid deliveries.

"These are alarming reports and we are engaging at the highest level with the federal government to express our concern and avoid any such incidents in the future," said Dujarric, adding that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had spoken with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday.

Abiy's army has battled the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern region since November 4.

Thousands are feared dead and the UN estimates that more than 950,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, about 50,000 of them into neighbouring Sudan.

Redwan Hussein, spokesman for Ethiopia's task force for Tigray, told reporters the UN team passed through two checkpoints without stopping while driving hastily to an unauthorised area.

"When they were about to break the third one, they were shot at and detained," he said.

Two diplomatic sources told Reuters the UN team encountered uniformed Eritrean troops, though both Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied any incursion over the border by President Isaias Afwerki's military.

Abiy and Afwerki signed a peace pact ending two decades of hostilities in 2018 and now regard the TPLF as a mutual foe.

Ethiopia's army has captured the regional capital Mekelle and declared victory but TPLF leaders say they are fighting back on fronts around the highland city.

The United Nations and aid agencies are pressing for safe access to Tigray, which is home to more than five million people and where 600,000 relied on food aid even before the conflict.

"The agreement we entered with the UN was in the belief that the UN would co-ordinate with us but the government would call the shots," Redwan said, emphasising that Ethiopia was capable of helping its own people.

He said the government would investigate any reports of atrocities or mass killings and allow independent probes if needed. "Ethiopia is being run by a strong functional government," he said. "It doesn't need a babysitter."

last updated: 2020-12-09@07:12