UN expects 200,000 Ethiopian refugees to flee Tigray to Sudan

Forces in the northern region fired rockets at a neighbouring state on Friday, heightening fears the internal conflict could spread to other parts of the country

Ethiopian men who fled war in Tigray region, queue for wet food ration at the Um-Rakoba camp, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Al-Qadarif state, Sudan November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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UN agencies are planning for the possible arrival of 200,000 refugees in Sudan fleeing violence in Ethiopia over a six-month period, a UN refugee agency official said on Friday.

"Together with all the agencies we have built a response plan for about 20,000 people and currently we are at about 31,000 so it has already surpassed that figure," Axel Bisschop told a Geneva briefing.

"The new planning figure is around 200,000."

It comes as Tigray forces fired rockets at a neighbouring state on Friday, heightening fears the internal conflict could spread to other parts of the country, a day after Ethiopia said its forces were closing in on the dissident region's capital Mekele.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, unleashed a military campaign in the Tigray region on November 4 with the declared aim of unseating its ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which he accuses of defying his government and seeking to destabilise it.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the conflict in Africa's second most populous country, while tens of thousands have fled fighting and air strikes in Tigray, crossing to

neighbouring Sudan.

Mr Abiy this week insisted the military operation was in its final phase. Redwan Hussein, spokesman for an Ethiopian crisis committee handling the conflict, said that "our defence forces are moving forward and closing in on Mekele."

An official in Ethiopia's Amhara state said TPLF forces fired rockets at the regional capital, Bahir Dar, early on Friday morning.

Last week, the TPLF also fired rockets at Asmara, the capital of neighbouring Eritrea which it accuses of backing the Ethiopian advance. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia deny the allegation.

Amhara communications official, Gizachew Muluneh, said the three TPLF rockets had all missed their targets, resulting in neither casualties nor damage with two rockets striking near the airport and a third hitting a maize field.

"My suspicion is they were targeting the Amhara Mass Media Agency, the airport and a telecommunications tower that is nearby," Mr Gizachew said.