Ethiopia denies blocking aid to Tigray as WFP resumes operations

An Ethiopian woman, who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, holds her child under a World Food Programme banner in Hamdayet village on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in the eastern Kassala state, Sudan December 15, 2020. REUTERS-Mohamed Nureldin

The Ethiopian government on Friday denied blocking humanitarian aid to its northern Tigray region and said it was doing all it could to rebuild infrastructure amid accusations it is using hunger as a weapon.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the former rulers of the region bordering Eritrea, said this week it was back in control of the Tigrayan capital Mekelle after nearly eight months of fighting.

The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire which the TPLF dismissed as a joke. There are reports of continued clashes in some places as pressure builds internationally for all sides to pull back.

“The allegation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as weapon of war is beyond the pale,” Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen told diplomats in Addis Ababa.

“We have been exerting every possible effort to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore electricity, telecoms, internet and banking services.”

He blamed the TPLF for attacking infrastructure.

“These critical infrastructures continue to be a target of attack by the TPLF, which has made it extremely difficult to provide uninterrupted services to the people.”

The United Nations said in early June at least 350,000 people in Tigray faced famine. The U.S. Agency for International Development last week estimated the number at 900,000.

The government has been battling the TPLF since late last year, when it accused the TPLF of attacking military bases across the region. Thousands have been killed.

TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda has repeatedly told Reuters this week that the group condemns the government’s shutdown of services as a continued act of war and is ready to facilitate international aid group access to save its people from starvation.

Electricity and telecommunications were down and U.N. offices were relying on limited remaining satellites after Ethiopian soldiers destroyed equipment at the UNICEF office in the city, Hayat Abu Salah, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on Thursday.

The U.N. World Food Programme said on Friday it had resumed operations in Tigray but was “way, way behind schedule” with aid deliveries. It said it was cautiously optimistic of an air bridge being set up in coming days.

“A ceasefire doesn’t mean cutting a region off power or destroying critical infrastructure,” Josep Borrell, EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a tweet.

“A credible ceasefire means doing everything possible so that aid reaches the millions of children, women and men who urgently need it.”

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