Opposition parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have warned of a huge “humanitarian disaster” if aid is not delivered urgently as people were already dying from hunger, they said, urging the international community to intervene.
The parties also claimed about 52,000 people have been killed, including women, children and religious leaders, since the conflict started in November although they did not explain how they arrived at the estimate.
In a joint statement, three opposition parties – the Tigray Independence Party (TIP), Salsay Weyane Tigray, and National Congress of Great Tigray – said if food and medicine did not arrive quickly the “looming humanitarian disaster of biblical proportion” would become a “gruesome reality in Tigray”.
“Towns and villages have been demolished by blind artillery shelling. Our health and educational facilities have been looted and destroyed and, to the surprise of any sane mind, our religious institutions have also been attacked and their sacred possessions plundered,” the parties added.
The federal government of Ethiopia meanwhile says aid is being delivered and nearly 1.5 million people affected by the conflict and has not corroborated the number of deaths given by the opposition.
The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed maintains that it is waging a “law enforcement operation” against Tigray’s former ruling party.
Conflict broke out after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized federal military bases in the region following a breakdown in relations with Prime Minister Ahmed’s government.
About 100,000 Eritrean refugees who had been living in UN-run camps in Tigray have also been caught up in the conflict.
A spokesman for the UN refugee agency said they had received reports that some of them were eating tree barks and drinking water from puddles after being forced to flee their camps.
About two million people have been internally displaced in the conflict in Tigray and the government has heavily restricted access to the region for the media and aid agencies.
On Monday, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said he had “rarely seen an aid response so impeded” in the 40 years he had worked in the humanitarian field.
The opposition parties also called for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops from the region, and for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes committed by all forces.
Last week, the US called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops. The state department said “credible reports” had emerged of their involvement in human rights abuses, including sexual violence and looting.
The Eritrean and Ethiopian governments have previously denied that Eritrean troops are in Tigray. (Source: BBC)