Food aid convoy headed for Ethiopia's Tigray attacked

Tuesday July 20 2021
Ethiopian refugees

Ethiopian refugees who fled fighting in Tigray province queue for food at the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref province, on November 21, 2020. PHOTO | AFP


A convoy bearing food for Ethiopia's war-hit Tigray came under attack at the weekend, the United Nations said Monday, dealing a further blow to aid distribution in a region threatened with famine.

The 10-vehicle World Food Programme convoy was attacked on Sunday about 115 kilometres from the town of Semera "while attempting to move essential humanitarian cargo into Tigray region", WFP said in a statement.

The agency said it was working with local officials to determine who was behind the incident.

"WFP has suspended movement of all convoys from Semera until the security of the area can be assured and the drivers can proceed safely."

Semera is the capital of Afar region, which borders Tigray to the east.

The route via Semera into Tigray had become critical for aid delivery in recent weeks after two key bridges along other routes were destroyed in late June. 


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to detain and disarm leaders of the region's then-ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

He said the move was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Fighting spreads

The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate declared victory in late November after government forces took the Tigray capital Mekele, but TPLF leaders remained on the run and fighting continued.

Last month the war took a stunning turn when pro-TPLF forces retook Mekele, Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire and the army mostly pulled out of Tigray.

But after rebel leaders launched a new offensive intended to regain control of western and southern Tigray -- contested areas that have been occupied by fighters from the Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south -- Abiy vowed to "repel" them.

Officials from six regions and the city of Dire Dawa have since said they would send troops to back up government forces. 

At the weekend rebel forces carried out what a spokesman described as a "very limited action" in Afar targeting special forces and militia fighters from Oromia region, the country's largest. 

A state media report published Saturday accused the TPLF, which the government deems a terrorist organisation, of blocking aid into Tigray via Afar using "heavy shelling" and "heavy artillery".

But rebel spokesman Getachew Reda denied any aid delivery had been disrupted, saying the fighting was not near any aid routes.

A senior UN official told the UN Security Council this month that the Tigray conflict had pushed 400,000 people into famine and that another 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine.

Rebel chief's son arrested

Along with the humanitarian situation, Ethiopia is also coming under pressure for reports about arbitrary arrests targeting ethnic Tigrayans outside Tigray. 

Last week Amnesty International accused security forces of arbitrarily arresting dozens of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa and elsewhere since late June.

The total number is likely to be in the hundreds, with the whereabouts of many unknown, Amnesty said.

Among those detained is Senay Gebretsadkan, son of Tsadkan Gebretensae, the pro-TPLF general credited with engineering last month's stunning military reversal, according to his family.

Senay, a 28-year-old engineer who studied in the United States, was taken into custody last week and has been held incommunicado for six days, a relative told AFP on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

It is the third time he has been detained this year, though in previous instances his family could ascertain his whereabouts and he could see a lawyer. 

This time "he's been abducted by government forces. There is no due process, he hasn't been formally arrested and no charges have been filed. We don't know where he's been taken," the relative said.

"Senay has no military or political affiliation whatsoever. We believe he is being deliberated targeted because of his ethnicity and to cause harm to Lieutenant General Tsadkan."

Amnesty said in its report that those detained have included activists and journalists, and some have been beaten and transported hundreds of kilometres (miles) from the capital.

Ethiopia's federal police and the attorney general's office did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Getu Argaw, the Addis Ababa police commissioner, told state media at the weekend that 323 people "suspected of helping the TPLF in various activities have been arrested".