UN, Rights Groups Urge Ethiopia to Protect Civilians


November 24, 2020


Children play in front of a hotel damaged by mortar shelling, in Humera, in the Tigray region, Ethiopia, November 22, 2020. PHOTO: AFP


By VOA News


International rights groups are urging Ethiopian forces to prioritize the safety of civilians in the Tigray region as a government-set deadline for regional forces to surrender looms.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has given the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, until Wednesday to surrender or face a military assault on the city of Mekele.

Ethiopia’s military said Monday it had encircled Mekele at a distance of about 50 kilometers. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael denied that was the case and said the military was trying to cover up defeats.

Communications blackouts have made verifying information during three weeks of fighting difficult.

The central government launched its operation after accusing the TPLF of ambushing a military base. A dispute over elections, with Abiy delaying voting due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Tigray region going ahead with its own vote, added to the tensions. The conflict has left hundreds of people dead.

“As Ethiopian federal troops begin preparations to encircle Mekelle, Amnesty International reminds all parties that deliberately attacking civilians and civilian objects is prohibited under international humanitarian law, and constitutes war crimes,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, was quoted as saying in a Monday press release from the rights group.

The United Nations said Monday that more than 30,000 people have fled Tigray to neighboring Sudan and echoed calls to preserve the safety of civilians.

“Our humanitarian colleagues also stress that it is urgent that all parties to the conflict enable the free and safe movement of affected people in search of safety and assistance, including across international and within national borders, regardless of their ethnic identification,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at a daily briefing.

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