Opposition parties in the Tigray region of Ethiopia have warned of a huge “humanitarian catastrophe” if humanitarian aid did not arrive urgently to the area that witnessed armed confrontations between government forces and armed opposition parties.
The opposition said the population was already dying of hunger, and urged the international community to intervene.
For its part, the Ethiopian government says that the distribution of aid has begun, and has reached nearly 1.5 million people so far.
The opposition said 52,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of the conflict last November.
The parties did not explain how they came to estimate that number, but said it includes women, children, and religious leaders.
The government has not released figures for the dead, but said it was launching a “law enforcement operation” against the former ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party in Tigray.
The conflict had erupted after the front took control of the federal military bases in the region, following the deterioration of relations between it and the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The conflict has trapped more than 100,000 Eritrean refugees, who were living in UN camps in the region.
A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency said that they had received reports that some refugees were eating on tree bark and drinking from ponds, after they were forced to flee their tents.
The Tigrayan conflict caused internal displacement of nearly two million people, and the government severely restricted media and aid agencies’ access to the region.
The head of the “Norwegian Refugee Council”, Jan Egeland, said that during his 40 years in the humanitarian field, he had not witnessed “a similar hindrance to relief efforts.”
In a joint statement, three opposition parties (Tigray Independence Party, Salsai and Yanni Tigray, and the National Congress of Great Tigray) said that an unprecedented “humanitarian catastrophe” could become a reality in Tigray if food and medical aid did not arrive.
The statement added that “indiscriminate artillery shelling destroyed villages and towns, health and educational facilities were looted and destroyed, and religious institutions and their sacred property were looted.”
The opposition parties demanded the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces from the region, and for an independent investigation into war crimes committed by all parties.
Last week, the United States demanded an immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces. The US State Department said that there were “documented reports” of its involvement in human rights violations, including sexual assaults and pillaging.
The Eritrean and Ethiopian governments have previously denied the presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray.
Threatening territorial integrity
The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) ruled the region for nearly thirty years, and under its command some 250,000 fighters.
The party was ousted from power on November 28, after Ethiopian government forces took control of the region’s capital, Mekele.
Abiy accused the “Tigray People’s Liberation Front” of threatening the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and trying to overthrow his government, by controlling its military bases last fall.
For its part, the Front said that it seized these bases in a precautionary strike, after it feared interference by the federal government in Tigray.
Last August, the Front held elections in Tigray, defying the federal government’s decision to postpone them due to the Corona epidemic.
The government of Abiy Ahmed described the elections as “illegal”, while the “Tigray People’s Liberation Front” accused the government of being illegal and had no mandate to govern Ethiopia.
Tensions escalated between the two parties, which led to the outbreak of conflict.