Médecins sans frontières (MSF) announced on Wednesday (July 7th) the suspension of its activities in parts of Tigray, an Ethiopian region at war. The NGO called for an investigation after “Brutal murder” of three of its employees on June 24. “MSF announces the suspension of its activities in Abi Adi, Adigrat and Aksum, in central and eastern Tigray. MSF teams in other regions of Tigray will continue to cautiously provide assistance to people in urgent need ”, the NGO said in a statement.
At least twelve aid workers have been killed in Tigray since the fighting began in November. The Ethiopian army clashes there with the forces supporting the dissident regional authorities, resulting from the Popular Front for the Liberation of the People of Tigray (FPLT).
MSF announced on June 25 the death of three of its employees, a Spaniard and two Ethiopians. “Almost two weeks after the murder of our colleagues, no one has claimed responsibility and the circumstances of their deaths remain unclear”, says Teresa Sancristoval, MSF’s director of operations, in this press release. “This is why we are asking for an immediate investigation of the parties concerned to establish the facts (…) and provide us with a detailed account of what happened and who is responsible for it”, she added, calling“Extremely painful” the decision to suspend activities.
According to the UN, more than 400,000 people have “Crossed the threshold of famine” in this region of northern Ethiopia. 1.8 million additional inhabitants “Are on the verge of famine”. Tigray has been the scene of fighting since the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, sent there in early November, after months of tension, the army to overthrow the local government. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner accused these leaders of orchestrating attacks on military bases, which the latter denied.
After a counteroffensive launched on June 18, pro-FPLT (Tigray Defense Forces, FDT) forces regained control of the regional capital, Mekele. The Ethiopian federal government then declared a unilateral ceasefire. The FDT have since regained control of much of the region.
The international community was outraged at the destruction last week of two bridges leading to Tigray, reducing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region. The Ethiopian authorities have denied any responsibility and refuted accusations that they wanted to starve the Tigrayan population.
“A seat” of the Ethiopian government
The European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic, denounced again on Tuesday ” a seat “ led by the Ethiopian government. “There is an embargo on flights to Tigray. Internet and telecommunications have been cut. The telecommunications equipment essential to humanitarian operators has been confiscated ”, he declared in front of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg.
“It is not a ceasefire, it is a siege, and famine is used as a weapon of war”, accused the Slovenian official. The Ethiopian government said on Wednesday it had authorized humanitarian flights in the area, but a UN official on the ground said none had taken off.