Ethiopia: aid convoys reach embattled Tigray after truce

Deliveries coincide with a trip to Ethiopia this week by the outgoing US special envoy for the Horn of Africa

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Aid convoys were in or on their way to Ethiopia's conflict-ravaged Tigray region on Thursday, humanitarian agencies said, the latest deliveries to take advantage of a truce between the country's warring sides.

The 17-month conflict between government forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) has created a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia and sparked famine fears in Tigray, which has for many months been under what the UN describes as a de facto blockade.

Aid deliveries by road to the stricken region of six million people were cut off in mid-December and only limited medical and other supplies could be flown in.

But the first new convoys sent by the UN's World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross finally arrived at the beginning of April, about a week after the truce was declared.

The ICRC said on Twitter on Thursday that another shipment carrying food and medical supplies, as well as household items, had arrived in Mekele, the capital of Tigray.

"The convoy also carried essential equipment for the orthopaedic rehabilitation centre," it said.

The WFP announced that a second convoy was on its way to Mekele.

"Forty-seven trucks with food, nutrition and other life-saving supplies plus three fuel tankers – fundamental to deliver these items to communities in #Tigray," it tweeted.

The convoy had a "smooth journey so far with support from all authorities", the WFP said, as the truce between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government and the TPLF continues to hold, allowing aid to reach the battered region.

The new deliveries coincide with a trip to Ethiopia this week by the outgoing US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, as Washington steps up diplomatic pressure to allow aid to reach Tigray. The National reported this week that Mr Satterfiled will step down this summer after less than six months in the job.

On Thursday, the Ethiopian government said it "reaffirms its commitment to work closely with the international community and other stakeholders to ensure proper access to humanitarian aid".

"The government also urges the international community to put pressure on Tigray militants to withdraw fully from the areas they occupy in the Afar and Amhara regions to pave the way for a smooth aid delivery for those in need."

The TPLF's withdrawal from the two regions neighbouring Tigray was a key condition set by the government when it announced a humanitarian truce on March 24.

The rebels in turn urged the Ethiopian authorities "to go beyond empty promises and take concrete steps to facilitate unfettered humanitarian access" to Tigray.

Earlier this week, the TPLF announced that its troops were leaving Erebti, one of the areas they occupy in Afar.

Doctors at the Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, say patients are dying as medics face shortages of life-saving drugs and oxygen.  AP Photo

But Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said on Thursday the reports that Tigrayan forces have moved out of Afar "need verification".

The government and the rebels have long accused each other of blocking aid to Tigray, where people are living without basic services such as electricity, internet, telecommunications or banking.

The war has killed untold numbers of people, displaced more than two million and left more than nine million in need of food aid, according to the UN.

Nearly 40 percent of Tigray's six million inhabitants face "an extreme lack of food", the UN said in January, with fuel shortages at times forcing aid workers to deliver medicines and other crucial supplies on foot.

The conflict erupted in November 2020 when Nobel laureate Mr Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, the region's former ruling party, saying the move was a response to rebel attacks on army camps.

The move followed months of tensions between the government and the TPLF, which dominated politics in Ethiopia for three decades before Mr Abiy came to power in 2018.

Updated: April 15, 2022, 1:10 PM
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