UN and Ethiopian rights body demand civilians be protected

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Addis Ababa

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on Sunday added to UN calls for “urgent measures” to protect and assist civilians in Tigray, where damage to key infrastructure is exacerbating the imminent threat of famine caused by the eight-month conflict.

Millions are at risk of starvation as the brutal civil war reaches a turning point, with thousands of captured Ethiopian government troops arriving in the Tigrayan capital Mekele as the pre-war administration reasserts control.

Tigray has been the scene of fighting since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the army in early November to topple the dissident regional authorities, which emerged from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner accused them of orchestrating attacks on Ethiopian military bases.

After early successes and a premature declaration of victory, government forces were bogged down in a vicious and months-long battle with pro-TPLF fighters — the Tigray Defence Forces, or TDF.

The Ethiopian army was backed by troops from the neighbouring Amhara region and the army of Eritrea, which borders Tigray.

On Monday, the TDF recaptured Mekele, held by the Ethiopian army since November 28.
The government in Addis Ababa immediately declared a unilateral ceasefire, but this was derided as a “joke” by the rebel forces, which vowed to continue fighting.

A large number of Ethiopian army prisoners arrived in Mekele on Friday, on foot and in trucks, a journalist in the city reported.

According to the TDF, more than 7,000 Ethiopian soldiers marched for four days from the town of Abdi Eshir, 75 kilometres southwest of Mekele.

The leaders of the former regional government, including its chairman Debretsion Gebremichael, have returned to the Tigrayan capital after months of being hunted by the Ethiopian army.

The TDF is now expected to direct its efforts towards the western and southern parts of the region, which were annexed early in the conflict by Amhara forces. The Amharas believethe TPLF illegally seized these areas in the early 1990s.

NGOs and UN agencies on Friday expressed alarm at the destruction of two bridges crucial to accessing Tigray.

According to the UN, one of the two bridges was reportedly destroyed by Amhara forces, although the government blamed the Tigrayan forces on Friday.—AFP

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