Thousands of displaced Ethiopians are pouring into neighbouring Sudan, fleeing fighting in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as fears grow that conflict between national and provincial forces could spiral into a serious humanitarian crisis.
Aid officials say as many as 8,000 Ethiopians are thought to have already crossed the border in the last two days and hundreds of thousands more are likely to leave their homes if the conflict, now entering its second week, does not end.
Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed launched military operations in Tigray last week, after he accused local authorities of attacking a military camp in the region and attempting to loot military assets.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is in power in the province, denies the attack and has accused the prime minister of concocting the story to justify deploying the offensive.
Sudanese frontier officials described hungry and tired children, as well as casualties from the fighting, arriving in Sudan after a difficult journey.
“More and more people, including wounded from the operations there, are still coming. The numbers are increasing rapidly. There are lots of children and women,” said Khalid Al-Sir, the head of the government refugee agency in Kassala state, in east Sudan.
“They are arriving very tired and exhausted. They are hungry and thirsty since they have walked long distances on rugged terrain.”
Local authorities are overwhelmed and the situation on the ground is deteriorating rapidly, Sir said.
The fighting has involved clashes between ground troops, air strikes and artillery duels, with heavy casualties reported on both sides.
Airports in Tigray are closed, roads blocked, internet services cut off and even banks are no longer operating.
Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief in Ethiopia, said on Tuesday evening that long lines had appeared outside bread shops and supply-laden trucks are stuck at the province’s borders.
Sajid told the Associated Press that up to 2 million people in the now isolated province were having a “very, very difficult time” and were short of fuel or food, or both.
In his most recent statement, Abiy said the offensive in Tigray was “proceeding as planned” and brushed aside requests from the UN, the UK and the African Union for an immediate end to hostilities.
“Operations will cease as soon as the criminal junta is disarmed, legitimate administration in the region restored, and fugitives apprehended [and]brought to justice,” Abiy posted on Twitter.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition for decades before Abiy came to power in 2018. He won last year’s Nobel peace prize for ending a war with neighbouring Eritrea.
The sweeping political reforms the 44-year-old former soldier pushed through won wide praise, but has allowed old ethnic and other grievances to surface.
Tigrayan leaders have complained of being unfairly targeted in corruption prosecutions, removed from top positions and blamed for the country’s problems.
Both sides have access to heavy weapons, armour and considerable stocks of ammunition and observers have warned that a lengthy conflict is possible. (Source: The Guardian)