Ethiopia’s military reportedly broke into a UNICEF office in Tigray capital Mekele — confiscating satellite equipment described as much-needed to carry out humanitarian work. The news comes as per a statement made on Tuesday by the organisation to the British media.
Victor Chinyama, UNICEF’s Ethiopia Chief of Communications, described the current state of affairs on the ground.
“The members of the Ethiopian military entered our office premises in Mekele, we’ve had an office there for even before the conflict began, and they confiscated our satellite equipment, which we still haven’t recovered up to this point.
“We are making frantic efforts to have that equipment returned to us as soon as possible so that we can continue with our humanitarian operations. Fortunately, all our staff are accounted for at the moment and they are in safe and secure locations. And as you know, it was only last week that unfortunately three staff from MSF were killed. So the safety and security of humanitarians is the obligation of both sides to the conflict.”
This comes after a unilateral cease-fire was declared by the government which saw Tigray fighters retake control of the regional capital after the retreat of both Ethiopian and Eritrean forces from three key towns in the area where 5.5 million people are in desperate need of assistance.
Victor Chinyama elaborated on the situation.
“There were about 23 districts of the 94 districts in the whole of Tigray that we’re not able to access, and even now it’s still not able to access. And we’re worried about the situation of children in those regions. So access is paramount.
“And with a ceasefire declared yesterday, we have a window of opportunity here to not only scale up our humanitarian response but also to ensure that we can reach people who hitherto have not been reached.
“We are not able to access for reasons such as the roads being blocked, such as our humanitarian supplies being looted and also insecurity, and this situation was dynamic. It was changing day-by-day. And these are really the issues that we are hoping can be resolved as we go forward to ensure that people have the much desperately needed aid.”
UNICEF, the UN and the WHO have confirmed that their staff are safe but also warned of phone lines being down and a lack of electricity — making it difficult for the bodies to execute their humanitarian efforts in Tigray. In the Northern region of Ethiopia where civilians have been subjected to eight months of a devastating civil war on their territory.
The swift turn in the nearly eight-month war has left people scrambling to understand what exactly is going on in the region of 6 million people as communications links are largely down.
The people in close contact with witnesses who confirmed the withdrawal spoke on condition of anonymity for their safety.
Eritrean soldiers, accused by witnesses of some of the war’s worst atrocities, left the towns of Shire, Axum and Adwa but it was not immediately clear whether they had left other communities, where they were going, or whether the retreat was temporary.
Neighboring Eritrea’s information ministry did not immediately respond to questions.
Tigray’s former leaders say they are now in control of the regional capital, Mekele.
The UN on Tuesday said it was “concerned” about the situation in the capital.
“We have seen reports that have come in and UNHCR is extremely worried about the latest developments inside Tigray, particularly in the capital Mekele,” said Boris Cheshirkov from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), speaking in Geneva.