UN condemns Ethiopia air strike that 'hit kindergarten'

The strike killed at least four people including two children

People inspect a damaged playground after an air strike in Mekele, the capital of Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, on Friday. Reuters
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The UN children's fund on Saturday condemned an air strike that hit a kindergarten in Ethiopia's rebel-held Tigray region, killing at least four people including two children.

The government denied aiming at civilian areas in Friday's air raid and accused the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of staging deaths.

"Unicef strongly condemns the air strike [that] hit a kindergarten, killing several children, and injuring others," the UN agency's executive director Catherine Russell said on Twitter.

"Yet again, an escalation of violence in northern Ethiopia has caused children to pay the heaviest price. For almost two years, children and their families in the region have endured the agony of this conflict. It must end."

The report of a strike on a kindergarten came amid renewed fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigray fighters. Both sides accused each other of restarting the war in the early hours of Wednesday after a lull in fighting since June 2021.

The TPLF said the air strike, the first in many months on Tigray, demolished a kindergarten and hit a civilian residential area in the regional capital, Mekele.

The government said only military sites were aimed at and accused the TPLF of "dumping fake body bags in civilian areas" to maximise outrage.

Ethiopia’s Government Communications Service said earlier on Friday that the government would take action aimed at "the military forces that are the source of the anti-peace sentiment of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front”.

It warned people in Tigray to stay away from military equipment and training centres used by Tigray forces.

Kibrom Gebreselassie, chief clinical director at Mekele's Ayder Referral Hospital, told AFP four people died in the strike, including two children. Nine others were receiving treatment for injuries, he said.

The EU condemned the strike and called for a peaceful settlement to the 21-month war.

"I urge again for the respect of International Humanitarian Law. Civilians are #NotATarget," the EU commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, said on Twitter.

In March, the UN said at least 304 civilians had been killed in air strikes in the three months prior in northern Ethiopia.

The conflict in Tigray, which began in November 2020, has killed thousands in Africa’s second-most populous country, which holds more than 115 million people. The conflict had calmed in recent months amid slow-moving mediation efforts. But last week the spokeswoman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told journalists that Tigray authorities were “refusing to accept peace talks.”

Ethiopia’s government has said it is ready for talks, but insists the African Union must lead the mediation efforts.

Tigray authorities have criticised the African Union’s efforts and urgently sought the resumption of telephone, banking and other services that have been largely cut off since the war began. The statement by Tigrayan authorities after Friday’s air strike charged that the federal government was not interested in peace talks.

The conflict has created a humanitarian crisis for millions of people affected by the fighting in the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, while thousands of Tigrayans now live in refugee camps in Sudan.

With reporting from agencies.

Updated: August 27, 2022, 9:20 AM