Eritrean troops block, loot food aid in Tigray: documents

According to government documents from Agence France-Presse, Eritrean soldiers are blocking and looting food aid in the war-torn Ethiopian Tigray region, stoking fears of starvation deaths as fighting nears the six-month mark.

In November, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray to detain and disarm the leader of the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional ruling party that once dominated the country’s politics.

He said that the move was in response to the TPLF’s attack on the army camps, and the fighting would end soon

However, as the war drags on, world leaders have become increasingly concerned about what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called an impending humanitarian “disaster” on Monday and the role Eritrean troops exacerbating it.

Those issues were echoed in multiple presentations given to useful resource organizations this month by the Emergency Coordination Centre of Tigrays Abiy-appointed interim government — copies of which AFP has reviewed.

The latest presentation, dated April 23, said that Eritrean soldiers had forced aid workers providing food relief out of various areas in Tigray, including the areas of Samre and Gidget south of the region’s capital, Mekele.

It says, in broken English, that Eritrean squaddies have also started showing up at food distribution points in Tigray, looting the supplies after “our beneficiaries have become frightened and (ran) away.”

An official who attended the April 23 presentation, and who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said aid workers have been visibly frustrated over their incapability to get entry to components of the region.

“Some of the NGO workers have been crying due to the systemic denial… a number of them have been screaming, crying,” the official stated, including that authorities officers coordinating relief efforts have been also fed up.

Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, thanks in large part to his friendly relationship with Eritrean President Isayas Afework, which ended the stalemate caused by the brutal border war during the years of 1998-2000.

But the Isaías government and the TPLF remained strong enemies. For months after the outbreak of the Tigray War, Addis Ababa and Asmara denied that troops from neighboring Eritrea were involved.

Abiy finally recognized their role in late March and shortly afterwards said they would withdraw.

In a phone call with Abiy Monday, Blinken again pressed for the Eritreans to leave, saying they were “contributing to the growing humanitarian disaster.”

Eritrean Information Minister Yeman Gabremsker denied the allegations of obstructing aid on Tuesday, telling AFP in an email that the country did not block food aid to Ethiopia during the border war two decades ago, and now Won’t start. 

He said: “No way that Eritrea can block humanitarian assitance or loot them”. 

But the head of the Tigray Command Post, General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam, told AFP on Tuesday: “In the past two weeks, We encountered problems when entering certain checkpoints that are specifically controlled by Eritreans. 

“He took the important checkpoint connecting the cities of Adigrat and Axum as an example.

“We sent our staffs to talk to the Eritrean commanders who commanded these forces at the checkpoint. We are waiting to hear their respond,” Yohannes said. 

The Tigray government documents obtained by AFP also mentioned obstacles by special forces from the Ethiopian’s Amhara region, as they intend to annex Westernand Southern Tigray. 

The speech on the 23rd stated that the five regions of Southern Tigray are in “very critical conditions and urgently need food aid.” 

With regard to the transportation of food aid, “they are under the control of the Amhara forces and also obstructed their movements”. 

The undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock, quoted a region called Ofla in his April 16 UN Security Council briefing. He said, he has received a report of 150 people dying from hunger there. 

The Tigray government said in a speech on April 9: “In Ofla, about 8 people died of starvation. 

Fighting in Tigray disrupted the harvest in a region that was already food insecure.

Abiy’s government said no one starved to death during the war in mid-April.