UN calls for de-escalating conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray state

Refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia wait to register at the UNCHR center at Hamdayet, Sudan, November 14, 2020. (Photo: AP)

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) -- Alarmed by increasing and spreading violence in northern Ethiopia's Tigray regional state, the United Nations on Monday called for de-escalating the conflict and allowing humanitarian access.

"The United Nations is alarmed by the escalating conflict in the north," said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing reports of rocket attacks on Eritrean capital Asmara, and in Bahir Dar and Gondar cities of Ethiopia's Amhara region.

The OCHA said in a release that it had received reports of an airstrike in the vicinity of Mekelle, a major city of Tigray, "from where the rockets were presumably launched last (Sunday) night."

"According to unconfirmed reports, there is massive internal displacement from western to northern Tigray," OCHA said. "Already, the number of Ethiopian asylum seekers who have crossed into Sudan has reached 25,300."

Some 96,000 refugees from Eritrea and a large number of internally displaced persons have been living in Tigray and are threatened by the violence, OCHA has said.

"The protection of civilians and the adherence to international humanitarian law must be enforced as a priority by all parties," OCHA said. "In addition, the UN calls for humanitarian access and the resumption of telecommunication and basic supplies, including food, medicine and fuel for civilians inside the Tigray region."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was following with great concern the developments in Tigray, their impact on more regions and "the risk of destabilizing the whole of the Horn of Africa," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general, at a regular briefing.

The United Nations is equally alarmed by the increasing insecurity in Ethiopia's southern regional state of Oromia and in the eastern Benishangul-Gumuz regional state, where humanitarian operations have been hampered, OCHA said.

"The secretary-general has been making a number of calls over the weekend," Dujarric told reporters." His envoy for the Horn of Africa also remains in the region."

Dujarric noted that part of the issue is a breakdown in communications with the region.

According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, an attack on a bus in Benishangul-Gumuz's Debate district on Saturday left at least 34 civilians dead.

Ethiopia has established a committee to address humanitarian concern in the country's restive northern Tigray regional state, said Redwan Hussein, spokesman of a newly-established State of Emergency Task Force for the Tigray conflict, on Monday.

Since the early hours of Nov. 4, the Ethiopian government has been undertaking military operations against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), local force in the Tigray regional state.

The mounting disputes between the federal government and the TPLF were exacerbated in September this year, when the Tigray regional government decided to go ahead with its planned regional elections, which the Ethiopian parliament had previously postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.