A United Nations security team visiting refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region had failed to stop at two checkpoints when it was shot at over the weekend, the government said on Tuesday.
The team was seeking access to the Shimelba camp for Eritrean refugees when they were fired at on Sunday, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “These are alarming reports and we are engaging at the highest level with the federal government to express our concern and avoid any such incidents in the future”, Dujarric said, adding that there were four people in the team.
A spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s task force for Tigray said that the UN team passed through two checkpoints without stopping while driving hastily to an unauthorized area: “When they were about to break the third one, they were shot at and detained”, he said.
The country’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed on November 4 ordered air strikes and sent soldiers into Tigray after accusing the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of revolt and an attack on a government base.
The TPLF accuses Abiy of seeking to centralise power at the expense of Ethiopia’s 10 regions and says Tigrayan officials were unfairly targeted in a crackdown on corruption and rights abuses. The government denies those accusations.
Federal troops have seized the regional capital Mekelle from the TPLF, and declared an end to their month-long offensive, but TPLF leaders say they are fighting back on various fronts around Mekelle.
Communications and transport links to Tigray have been severed since the fighting began, and the UN and humanitarian agencies have pleaded for access to provide food, medicines and other supplies in the camps that sheltered nearly 100,000 Eritreans before the hostilities began.
Thousands are feared dead and the UN estimates that more than 950,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, around 50,000 of them into neighbouring Sudan.