THE United Nations has launched an urgent appeal to help tens of thousands of civilians who have fled the violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
About 55,000 people have left their homes for neighbouring Sudan to escape the conflict, and the UN said that it needs to raise $156 million to help them and thousands of others who are displaced in Ethiopia.
A media blackout in parts of Tigray has meant that information about alleged attacks on civilians has been hard to verify. The current conflict broke out when the Ethiopian government launched an attack on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling group in Tigray, at the beginning of November (News, 20 November).
The Ethiopian government said before Christmas that the conflict was over and that it was in control of the area, but the TPLF said that fighting was still continuing.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said last week that there were reports of deliberate targeting of civilians and of artillery attacks on civilians. “We have received allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian law and human-rights law, including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings, and widespread looting,” she said.
“These reports point to failure by the parties to the conflict to protect civilians. This is all the more concerning given that fighting is said to be continuing, particularly in some areas of north, central, and southern Tigray.”
Reports gathered by the UN human-rights office suggested, she said, that there had been artillery attacks by Eritrea on the border town of Humera, including the shelling of the hospital. Eyewitnesses said that the Ethopian army and regional militia took over the town, killing civilians and looting homes and businesses.
Ms Bachelet called on the Ethiopian government to grant humanitarian agencies unhindered access to the whole of Tigray, to get assistance to those most in need. UNICEF has said that 2.3 million children are cut off from humanitarian aid.
The US State Department said that “credible reports” that Eritrean troops were also on the ground in Tigray were a “grave development”. Both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have denied this.